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Navajo Health Department warns of Hantavirus after first case of the year confirmed

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Charlotte Demers of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry releases a deer mouse from a trap at the Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007. The mouse will be tagged and released. Scientists attribute higher populations of rodents and small mammals in the central Adirondack Mountains to a big seed and berry crop last year, particularly from beech trees, but also from oaks, hickories, maples and conifers. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (ABC4) – Those living within the Navajo Nation are being warned about Hantavirus, a rare, but potentially fatal, disease that is spread by infected rodent droppings.

The first case of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, HPS, of the year was confirmed in McKinley County, within the Navajo Nation, according officials.

Now, the Navajo Department of Health, in coordination with the Navajo Epidemiology Center, has issued a Health Advisory Notice regarding HPS.

The advisory says “it is not known at this time where the individual contracted Hantavirus. HPS on the Navajo Nation can occur in all months of the year, but the greatest number of cases have been documented in the spring and summer months. There is evidence that periods of high rain and snowfall are associated with increased cases of HPS.”

“During spring and summer, we urge Navajo citizens to continue practicing preventative measures to avoid any exposure to many illnesses and diseases. Individuals are usually exposed to Hantavirus around their homes, sheds, and poorly ventilated areas with mouse droppings. To avoid any outbreaks, consider preventative actions to stop the spread, such as cleaning around the home,” says President Jonathan Nez.

Officials explain that HPS is transmitted to people that come into contact with or breathe infected deer mice droppings, urine, or saliva. It is not spread from person to person.

It is important to take appropriate precautions when entering and cleaning sheds, garages, campers, cabins, barns, and other buildings.

Symptoms of HPS can be much like COVID-19 or the flu, experts explain. Only a medical exam or lab tests can determine the difference. There is no vaccine or cure for HPS, but steps can be taken to reduce the risk of getting the disease.

“HPS, COVID-19, or any respiratory disease needs to be taken seriously. We encourage everyone to continue monitoring any flu-like symptoms. Please be cautious of any unclean surroundings that may have rodents and mouse droppings,” says Vice President Myron Lizer.

To prevent HPS, public health officials recommend the following:

  • Clean-up for mildly infested areas of rodent activity
  • Open all doors and windows for 30 minutes before cleaning.
  • Do not stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping, or any other means.
  • When rodent droppings or nests are found, spray them with a household disinfectant and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes. Disinfectant solution can be made by mixing 1 cup of bleach with one gallon of water.
  • After disinfecting, wear rubber gloves and clean up the droppings with disposable materials such as paper towels, rags, or disposable mop heads.
  • Seal all materials, droppings, or nests in double plastic bags and dispose of them in the trash.
  • Prevent rodents from entering the home by plugging or sealing all holes and gaps to the outside greater than 1/4-inch in diameter.
  • Eliminate or reduce rodent shelter around the home by removing outdoor junk and clutter and moving woodpiles, lumber, hay bales, etc.
  • Do not make food readily available to rodents. Do not leave pet food in the dishes. Dispose of garbage in trash cans with tight-fitting lids.

For more on HPS, visit the CDC’s website.

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