The Texas Department of State Health Services is reminding people to protect themselves from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a rare but sometimes fatal illness, after a resident along the Texas coast was diagnosed with HPS.
Hantavirus is carried by certain species of rats and mice that shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus can be transmitted to people by stirring up nesting materials or contaminated dust, allowing the virus to be breathed in by humans. Cases have been linked to cleaning out buildings where rodents live and working in dusty environments like ranches and oilfields.
DSHS recommends the following precautions:
- Seal openings that may allow rats and mice to enter homes and workplaces.
- Remove brush, woodpiles, trash and other items that may attract rats and mice.
- Tightly close garbage cans, pet food containers and other food sources.
- Wear protective gloves when handling dead mice and rats or cleaning up nesting areas, urine or droppings.
- Before cleaning up nests or droppings indoors, open windows and doors to ventilate the area for at least 30 minutes.
- Do not stir up nests by sweeping or vacuuming. Dampen areas with dead rodents, nests, urine and droppings before cleanup with a 1-to-10 bleach and water solution or other disinfectant.
- If dust will be stirred up, DSHS recommends using goggles and a HEPA or N-95 mask.
Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fatigue, fever and muscle aches that may be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Later symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath. If hantavirus is suspected, you should contact your health care provider immediately and mention any potential exposure to rodents, their nests or their waste.
There have been five HPS cases reported in Texas in 2014. A total of 43 HPS cases have been confirmed in Texas since 1993, the first year the disease was detected. Of those, 14 were fatal.