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With Spring cleaning comes hantavirus risk

A mouse-hole that was found in a garage wall.
David Dudley
Wyoming Public Media
This is the kind of hole mice use to access spaces in homes, garages and barns throughout Wyoming. This one was found in downtown Cheyenne.

You know the feeling: There's an attic, crawl space or garage that needs to be cleaned. But before you jump in and stir up the dust, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) says beware of mouse droppings or urine. That's where hantavirus lives.

Courtney Tillman, the infectious disease epidemiologist at the WDH, said the virus is rare. But it’s still important to protect yourself. One way to do this is by mixing a homemade disinfectant.

"Typically, we recommend a bleach solution," said Tillman. "So, one and a half cups of bleach to one gallon of water, and spraying the rodent area with that mixture and giving it time to soak in. Then you want to wipe it up.

Humans contract the disease by breathing particles found in mouse droppings, urine and saliva. Early symptoms include headache, fever, muscle aches and nausea. If left untreated, late hantavirus symptoms may set in as the disease advances to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

"And these symptoms are much more severe," Tillman said. "It includes coughing, shortness of breath [...] chest tightness or unable to take a full breath. And this is because the lungs start to fill with fluid."

Though the disease is rare, it can be deadly. There have been only 18 cases of human hantavirus reported in Wyoming since 1999. But seven of those were fatal, indicating a high mortality rate.

Contact your health care provider if you develop fever, headache, muscle aches or nausea after cleaning an area where rodents may have been.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.

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