Now that warmer weather has finally settled into the province, many residents are beginning to tackle their spring cleaning.
However, one important thing for individuals to keep in mind when clearing out sheds, garages, barns, and other spaces after winter is exposure to Hantavirus.
“Hantavirus is a virus that can cause illness in human beings,” explained Dr. David Torr, medical health officer for southwest networks 4, 5 and 6. “In the North American continent, it causes a specific pneumonia, which can be quite serious and can actually be fatal in many cases.”
Although it is not a common illness, it is an illness that anyone can be exposed to, especially in early spring.
“It's a virus that is carried by a specific mouse called the deer mouse, which will pass this virus through its saliva, excreta, and urine on to surfaces,” And on those surfaces, when we go to clean out for spring, we can cause these particles to become airborne, breathe them in, and then get infected in our lungs with them. Or we can actually touch contaminated surfaces and then the contaminated hands touch our nose and again we breathe in those particles and again we can then get the illness.”
Symptoms typically start within one to six weeks of being exposed and can include fever, muscle aches, cough, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
Dr. Torr noted that in order to keep yourself safe, there are precautions that can be taken when tackling spring cleaning.
“If it's a closed shed, open the door and let it ventilate for a bit because there could be lingering particles in the air,” he elaborated. “Second, is your own protective wear. A good mask available in most hardware stores with a N95 filter is really important to use, gloves are very important to use and then of course for clothing, after you've cleaned out the place, it's important to clean those clothes afterwards with good detergent and hot cycle.”
During the cleaning process, it is also important to avoid vacuuming or dry dusting as it can spread the particles.
“What is advised is wet cleaning using an appropriate disinfectant like bleach,” he added.
Steps can also be taken to prevent rodent infestations such as blocking openings where they might be able to enter, storing any food (animal or human), water and garbage in pest proof/resistant containers with lids, and moving woodpiles or other potential hiding places for mice away from your home.
Hantavirus is a virus and does not have a vaccine or a cure, making prevention essential.
Between 1994 and 2022, 37 cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome were reported in Saskatchewan. Of those cases, 13 were fatal.