With spring comes warm weather, longer days, and the urge to do some spring cleaning. Saguache County residents are urged to be cautious when opening sheds, outbuildings, and other structures that may have remained closed during winter months. Deer mice can move into barns, sheds, crawlspaces, and attics to keep warm through the winter. Deer mice have tawny backs, white bellies, big eyes and big ears.

In the San Luis Valley, deer mice can carry hantavirus. Other wild rodents can also be infected, but these do not occur in our area. Not all deer mice have the virus, but it is not possible to tell if a mouse has the virus by looking at it. Testing has shown that typically 10-15% of deer mice are infected. Household pets (including rodents) do not get sick from the virus. The virus is not spread by insects or from person to person.

Hantavirus can be found in the urine, saliva and droppings of infected mice. People are infected by breathing in the virus when stirring up dust from mouse nests or mouse droppings in areas with poor ventilation, or when handling mice. People are at risk for hantavirus when cleaning barns, outbuildings, sheds and clearing wood piles that might contain mouse droppings. People who go into crawl spaces below homes, attics or other closed spaces with rodent droppings also are at risk.

Symptoms of hantavirus

Symptoms usually start from one week to six weeks after exposure. Initial symptoms of hantavirus infection are:

  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • severe muscle pains
  • Stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue can also occur

Within one to five days later, a dry cough and difficulty breathing develop: this is the result of fluid building up in the lungs. From this point  the illness can progress very rapidly to respiratory failure or even death.

If within six weeks of exposure to mice or their droppings, you develop fever, headache and muscle pain, seek medical care immediately.

To clean up rodent infested areas

Open doors and windows and allow a room to air out for 30 minutes before going inside. Wear rubber gloves, and spray droppings, nests and carcasses with bleach & water solution (1 1/2 cups bleach per 1 gallon water, or 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, mixed that day). Let soak for 5-10 minutes before cleaning up with a mop, sponge or wet-vacuum.

DO NOT SWEEP OR DRY-VACUUM MOUSE DROPPINGS. Consider using a respirator mask (N-100 rating) that seals tightly to the face. After disinfecting, place mouse carcasses, nests and cleaning materials into a plastic bag. Tie the bag shut and put it in an outdoor trashcan.  Wash hands and clothing after clean up.

Reduce your risk of hantavirus

Plug all holes (dime-sized or larger) in walls and around pipes and vents, using steel wool or metal sheeting. Repair window screens and make sure weather-stripping under doors is tight (including pet doors).

Store pet food and birdseed in lidded containers. Make sure human food is stored in a securely closing cabinet. Keep garbage in tightly-covered cans.

Store hay, wood and equipment above ground at least 100 feet from the house. Remove old cars, junk, and brush piles from the yard. Use traps baited with peanut butter to remove rodents from indoor areas where people live and work.

For further information, call your local public health agency or log onto www.cdphe.state.co.us,  and locate “hantavirus pulmonary syndrome” under the “Health A to Z” topics index.

San Luis Valley Public Health Agencies

  • Alamosa County  (719) 589-6639
  • Conejos County (719) 274-4307
  • Costilla County (719) 672-3332
  • Mineral County (719) 658-2416
  • Rio Grande County (719) 657-3352
  • Saguache County (719) 655-2533 or (719) 754-2773

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