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          Friday, July 25, 2014
Saskatchewan! Healthy people. A healthy province.

What is hantavirus infection?

Hantavirus infection is a rare but serious illness. Typical symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, abdominal pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms can occur any time between three days to six weeks (usually occurring around 14 days) after exposure. Infection without symptoms is rare.

Exposure to hantaviruses can cause a rare, but often fatal, disease called Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). HPS can progress rapidly into serious lung complications and include the following symptoms: abnormal fall in blood pressure; lungs fill with fluid and severe respiratory failure.

There have been 27 cases of Hantavirus reported in Saskatchewan since 1994, including one case in 2014. Over that period there have been nine associated deaths. 

How is hantavirus infection spread?

Humans are most often exposed to the virus by breathing in air particles contaminated by deer mouse saliva, urine or feces containing infectious hantaviruses. This can occur, for example, after sweeping or vacuuming infected areas.

The virus can also be transmitted by:

  • being bitten by a deer mouse or other infected rodent, if the skin is broken;
  • touching rodent urine, saliva, or droppings;
  • eating food contaminated by infected deer mouse saliva, urine or droppings.

Hantaviruses are rarely, if ever, spread from person to person and this has never been reported in North America. Hantaviruses are not spread from pets or livestock. However, cats and dogs may bring infected deer mice into contact with humans.

What are the sources of infection of hantavirus and where is it found in Saskatchewan?

In western North America, deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are the primary carriers of the particular strain of hantavirus that causes respiratory illness in people.

Deer mice are found throughout Saskatchewan in a variety of indoor and outdoor habitats. They are more common in rural and semi-rural areas than in urban areas. Deer mice construct nests in stumps, hollow tree cavities, under logs, abandoned bird nests or in man-made structures such as wood piles or old cars. They may enter buildings when the weather turns colder.

What do deer mice look like?

Deer mouse photo

Compared to house mice or field mice, deer mice have relatively large eyes and ears, long tails and are bicoloured. The belly and underside of their body is white and the back and upper part of their tail is dark brown or gray.

Deer mouse photo, courtesy of Public Health Agency of Canada

Are there areas of the province where the risks are higher?

Ongoing studies in Saskatchewan have detected hantavirus in deer mice throughout a wide area of southern Saskatchewan. Human cases have occurred in prairie, parkland and forested areas, but the most recent cases have been found in northwest and west central areas.

Are there people at higher risk of acquiring the disease?

The disease can affect all ages and gender of people. People are at higher risk if they come into contact with mice, their droppings or nesting materials. Most the exposures of people are from cleaning out or demolishing enclosed or poorly ventilated buildings that have had mouse infestations (i.e. grain bins, sheds, barns, garages, ventilation systems, trailers, elevators, etc.) or cleaning equipment such combines or vehicles that have been in storage.

What can people do to minimize their risk of getting hantavirus?

Exposure to hantavirus can be reduced by avoiding contact with rodents and contaminated airborne particles.

  • Block openings that might allow rodents to enter a building;
  • Store human and animal food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids;
  • Be aware of animal droppings and nesting materials when cleaning a home or other building.

When cleaning rodent-infested areas people are advised to reduce the risk of contaminated air particles becoming airborne, and prevent direct contact and inhalation.

  • Ventilate the building by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning;
  • Use wet mopping methods and wear gloves;
  • Wear goggles and a filter mask when cleaning areas contaminated by droppings in a confined space;
  • Dampen areas contaminated with rodent droppings with bleach disinfectant and remove droppings with a damp mop or cloth; and
  • Avoid using dry cleaning methods such as dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or air-hosing.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace safety has developed a set of guidelines for preventing hantavirus in the workplace and for the public entitled "Hantavirus Disease: Guidelines for Protection Workers and the Public". It is available at:

http://www.lrws.gov.sk.ca/hantavirus-disease-guidelines-protecting-workers-public  



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