Santa Cruz Co. issues hantavirus warning

A Santa Cruz County resident has been diagnosed with an infection caused by hantavirus, prompting public health officials with the county to warn the public and make recommendations on how they can avoid contracting the virus themselves.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, more frequently known as HPS, is caused by a virus found in urine, droppings or saliva from wild rodents such as deer mice.

People typically contract the infection when entering or cleaning buildings and other enclosed places where mice are present. Small particles of urine or droppings get stirred up into the air and inhaled, leading to the infection.

The rapidly progressing symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches followed by severe difficulty breathing and sometimes death. Following the identification of the syndrome in 1993, there have been more than 70 confirmed cases in California, roughly 30 percent of which turned fatal.

Santa Cruz County residents are advised to avoid wild rodent droppings and their nests, and allow enclosed areas where mice may be present to air out for at least a half-hour before entering.

Areas that may be contaminated with rodent droppings or urine should not be swept or vacuumed. Cleaning materials should be disposed of quickly after use. Clothing and hands should be washed immediately, health officials said.

People should store food in rodent-proof containers and in the event of a rodent infestation, remove the animals from the building using spring-loaded “snap traps.”

Dead rodents and any surfaces they may have contaminated with urine or droppings should be wetted with a 10 percent bleach solution or commercial disinfectant before cleanup begins.

In the event of infection, chances of recovery are affected by how promptly a patient gets medical care, according to health officials.