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First-ever Umatilla County hantavirus case diagnosed

Virus spread by breathing air contaminated by rodent excretions.

East Oregonian

Published on February 12, 2016 12:07PM

Hantavirus is here.

The sometimes fatal rodent-borne virus has been diagnosed in a Umatilla County resident for the first time ever. The county health department wouldn’t give details about the victim to protect the person’s privacy, but the case prompted Umatilla County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Jon Hitzman to issue a warning.

“Hantavirus is a rare but serious disease spread by rodents,” Hitzman said. “This disease can frequently become fatal, but there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure.”

The virus lurks in enclosed areas such as barns, outbuildings and sheds where mice nest.

Since hantavirus was first identified in 1993, 588 cases showed up nationally, 21 of them in Oregon. About two thirds of cases in Oregon were contracted through direct contact with rodents or rodent droppings. Other cases came through indirect exposure while camping or farming.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, rodents such as deer mice, cotton rats and rice rats serve as a reservoir for the virus. The rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings or saliva. Hantavirus can be transmitted to humans when they breathe in contaminated air.

The illness sickens its human victims about six weeks after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, and muscle ache, and rapidly to severe breathing difficulty and, in some cases, death.

Hitzman offered the following advice to prevent spread:

•Keep food in tightly sealed containers and store it away from rodents.

•Keep rodents out of buildings by removing stacked wood, rubbish piles, and discarded junk from around homes and sealing any holes where rodents could enter.

•When cleaning a sleeping or living space, open windows to air out the area for at least two hours before entering. Take care not to stir up dust. Wear plastic gloves and a mask. Spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10 percent bleach solution or other household disinfectant and wait at least 15 minutes before cleaning the area. Place the waste in double plastic bags, each tightly sealed, and discard in the trash. Wash hands thoroughly afterward.

•Do not touch or handle live rodents and wear gloves when handling dead ones. Spray dead rodents with a 1:10 dilution of bleach and water, or other virus killing compound, and dispose of in the same way as droppings. Wash hands thoroughly.

•If there are large numbers of rodents in a home or other buildings, contact a pest control service to remove them.

For additional information on preventing hantavirus, visit the federal CDC’s hantavirus page.


Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.


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