Colorado reports 1 death from hantavirus
April 15, 2011
DENVER (AP) – One person has died from hantavirus in Colorado this year and another has been sickened by it, prompting health officials to warn residents to take precautions before cleaning cabins and outbuildings this spring – one of the most common ways people are exposed to the disease.
Both victims were women in their 20s and both contracted the disease in late March, said Elisabeth Lawaczeck (LAH’-vuh-chek), public health veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The fatal case was in Saguache County, and the other case was in Weld County.
Hantavirus is a respiratory disease carried by deer mice, and humans can contract it by inhaling dust contaminated by the virus. That can happen during spring cleanups of buildings where deer mice droppings and urine have accumulated over the winter.
Hantavirus is rare – Colorado averages about four cases a year – but the mortality rate is high. Nationwide, 36 percent of people who contract hantavirus die from it, Lawaczeck said.
In 2010, Colorado had five cases, including three deaths.
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No vaccine is available for hantavirus and the only treatment is “supportive care,” which includes helping the patient get oxygen, Lawaczeck said.
She said it is nearly impossible to eradicate a communicable disease carried by wildlife because that might entail eliminating an entire species.
To avoid contracting the disease, the Health Department recommends thoroughly ventilating structures before cleaning and then wetting down any accumulation of dust, dirt and mouse droppings and letting them lie for five to 10 minutes before removing them. The department recommends a commercial disinfectant or a mixture of 1 1/2 cups of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water to dampen the accumulations.
Other recommendations include rodent-proofing buildings by plugging holes or other entrances mice can use, and using traps, poisons or professional exterminators to kill rodents.