Spring Cleaning: how to avoid potentially deadly hantavirus infection

By Catherine Haug, April 13, 2017

Yesterday’s Daily Inter Lake had an interesting piece by Kathryn Houghton, titled “Spring Cleaning. Officials: Rats carrying hantavirus can be deadly.” (1) This caught my eye because it’s time to clean out my garage from all the salty dirt brought in on my car’s tires, and also to sort through my old moving boxes (after moving them from storage in Portland) for my enameled cookware.

You can read the complete article at reference (1) below, but here are the highlights.

  • Rodents (not just rats) carry the virus.
  • Montana has one of the highest rates of infection in the US. About 25% of Montana’s cases have resulted in death.
  • The virus is spread in dusty air; sweeping, vacuuming and other cleaning activities can stir up dust infected by saliva, urine or droppings from infected rodents.
  • Symptoms include: fatigue, fever, muscle aches early in the cycle. As the pulmonary disease progresses, symptoms will include coughing and extreme shortness of breath.
  • Precautions: see below.


Image, right, from Amazon (2).

As you do your cleaning in areas where there is evidence of rodent activity, you should take the recommended precautions (provided by the Montana Department of Public Health):

  • Avoid sweeping or vacuuming areas with rodent droppings and urine, as the action can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings.
  • If cleaning an area such as a cabin, camper or outbuilding, open windows and doors to air-out the space for 30 minutes prior to cleaning.
  • Wear rubber or plastic gloves.
  • Thoroughly spray or soak the area with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water to reduce dust. Let soak for 5 minutes.
  • Wipe up the droppings with a sponge or paper towel and discard after use. [Cat’s recommendation: put discarded items in a plastic bag (such as a grocery bag), tie the bag closed, and place in the trash container.]
  • Clean and disinfect the entire area with disinfectant or bleach solution.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing and discarding the gloves. [Cat’s note: use real soap such as Dr. Bronner’s, Kirk’s Castile, or homemade soap, as these are antimicrobial. Commercial ‘soaps’ are really detergents and have little-to-no antimicrobial ability.]

More information on hantavirus and its prevention can be found on the Department of Public Health and Human Services website at dphhs.mt.gov and search “hantavirus” to get other related articles.


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