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With summer officially underway, the Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment is asking Coloradans to take precautions against hantavirus exposure while cleaning out cabins and buildings that were closed up during the winter months.

Hantavirus is a potentially fatal respiratory disease carried by deer mice, according to state health officials. When cleaning out structures that may be infested with rodents, individuals run the risk of exposure to the virus by breathing in dirt and dust that may contain deer mice urine or feces.

Dr. Jennifer House, a state public health veterinarian with CDPHE, said substantial rainfall and the current heavy snowpack provide ideal settings for deer mice to thrive and could prompt a spike in deer mice population — this raises the risk for human contracting the disease.

“May, June and July are the months when most human cases occur,” House said. “People need to take precautions to prevent exposure to hantavirus before they begin cleaning structures that have evidence of rodent activity.”

She suggested ventilating buildings and cabins before cleaning and also advised spraying dust, dirt or deer mice debris with a mixture of bleach and water. Do not sweep or vacuum an area without spraying it first, she added.

More precautions:

  • Rodent-proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways.
  • Conduct year-round rodent control or hire a professional exterminator.
  • Keep indoor areas clean, especially kitchens. Dispose of garbage in sealed containers.
  • Store food in rodent-proof containers.
  • Remove potential rodent hiding places near the home, like wood, junk and brush piles. Store firewood at least 100 feet from a structure.
  • Keep vegetation around the house well trimmed.

Hantavirus symptoms:

An infection typically begins with fever, body aches, headache and vomiting, and symptoms start about one to six weeks after exposure, according to CDPHE.

Symptoms can progress rapidly to respiratory distress within one to five days — individuals may experience a dry cough or difficulty breathing due to accumulating fluid in the lungs.

There is no effective treatment for the disease, so state health officials stress prevention when it comes to the virus.

“When hantavirus infection is suspected, early admission to a hospital for careful monitoring is critical. Treatment of symptoms and supportive therapy can be provided in the hospital,” Dr. House said. “If you become ill with these symptoms, it is important to tell your physician about possible exposures to deer mice or rodent-infested environments.”

CDPHE reported that three cases of hantavirus have been confirmed in Colorado this year, including one fatality.