Creatures are stirring

Guard against hantavirus this season

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 19, 2013

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In the wake of a Tohatchi child's death of Hantavirus earlier this month, New Mexico health authorities are urging residents to be extremely cautious in handling rodents or their droppings, which can spread the virus.

The 12-year-old boy succumbed Dec. 1 or 2. On Dec. 10 the New Mexico Department of Health confirmed he had died of Hantavirus, the second confirmed New Mexico Hantavirus fatality of the year.

New Mexico DOH spokesman David Morgan said the Indian Health Service was conducting an investigation of the child's home to try to determine how he was infected and eliminate the source of the infection. Patricia Olson, assistant to the director of the IHS's Navajo area, said she did not have any information on the investigation.

In New Mexico, according to the health department, the virus is usually carried by deer mice. People contract the virus by breathing in the aerosolized virus from infected rodents' feces, urine or saliva.

"People are usually exposed to Hantavirus around their homes, especially when they clean out enclosed areas that have lots of mouse droppings," said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health's public health veterinarian, in a news release. "With the cold weather, mice may try to enter buildings for shelter so it is important to seal up homes and other structures that are used by people. Mice can squeeze through holes the size of a dime."

Early symptoms of Hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough which progresses to respiratory distress. These symptoms develop within one to six weeks after rodent exposure. Although there is no specific treatment for Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early.

The DOH recommends sealing holes in buildings that may allow rodents to enter, spraying disinfectant on droppings before cleaning them up, and not sweeping them up in a way that stirs their dust into the air.

Keep hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from your home, and carefully clean up piles of unwanted junk.

Trap rodents and use extreme caution when handling both live and dead ones.

The previous 2013 New Mexico Hantavirus infections were in a 45-year-old woman from McKinley County who survived and a 73-year-old woman from Santa Fe County who died in October.

In 2012, New Mexico had one case of Hantavirus, which resulted in the death of a 20-year-old woman from Rio Arriba County. In 2011, New Mexico had 5 cases of Hantavirus. Three of the 5 cases were fatal, including a 51-year-old woman from McKinley County, a 35-year-old man from Torrance County, and a 23-year-old man from McKinley County.

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