SAN LUIS VALLEY— Most years, the San Luis Valley sees at least one case of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which is carried by deer mice. When HPS affects someone in a small community, fear among friends and neighbors is a natural reaction. Sometimes, however, a lack of knowledge combines with human nature and causes an unnecessary level of fear and worry.
“We want people to have the information they need to make wise decisions without experiencing unnecessary anxiety,” says Ginger Stringer, San Luis Valley regional epidemiologist. Local public health agencies have adopted a practice of not commenting on individual cases, but Stringer and members of the San Luis Valley Public Health Partnership would like community members to have a good understanding of what is or is not cause for concern.
Prevention is best
As with other health risks, prevention is best. The best prevention is to eliminate rodents in and around where you live, work and play. If a rodent infestation is discovered, take proper precautions when cleaning the area. People become infected by breathing in the virus, so take care not to sweep, vacuum, or otherwise kick up dust in an area where rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are present. Detailed instructions for cleaning attics, sheds, vehicles, and other spaces can be found at www.cdc.gov/rodents/cleaning.
When to seek medical attention
If you have had exposure to the urine, droppings, or saliva of rodents within the past one to eight weeks and you experience the early universal symptoms of fatigue, fever and muscle aches, see your doctor. Every person with HPS experiences these early universal symptoms. Four to seven days later, the infected person may develop late symptoms of coughing and difficulty breathing. At this stage, rapid medical care is critical. HPS is fatal for more than a third of those who contract it.
When NOT to worry
• Do not worry about HPS if your pet has had contact with rodents. Dogs and cats cannot give people hantavirus infections.
• Do not worry about HPS if you have had contact with a person with HPS. There has never been a reported case of the virus spreading by person-to-person contact.
• Do not worry about HPS if you feel sick in the weeks following exposure to a rodent infested area, but your symptoms do not include the universal HPS symptoms listed above.