Two mice test positive for hantavirus in Fairbanks Ranch area of Rancho Santa Fe

San Diego County environmental health officials are reminding people to be careful whenever they find signs of rodents living in homes, sheds and garages after two western harvest mice tested positive for the potentially deadly hantavirus.

The rodents were trapped in routine monitoring in the Fairbanks Ranch area.

Officials said hantavirus is common in the county, but people have very little chance of being exposed to it as long as wild rodents remain out of people’s living spaces.

Infected rodents shed hantavirus through their saliva, urine and feces. Officials said people should never try to sweep or vacuum up rodent nests or droppings in homes and work places because it could stir hantavirus into the air where it can be breathed in if rodents are infected.

“The best way to protect yourself is to avoid being exposed to rodents, by keeping them out of the areas you live in and work in,” said Elizabeth Pozzebon, county director of the Department of Environmental Health. “But if you have to clean an area, be sure to use ‘wet-cleaning’ methods — ventilate areas, spray them with bleach solutions or disinfectants and use sponges and mops.”

People who inhale the hantavirus can develop hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which starts with flu-like symptoms but can grow into severe breathing difficulties that can kill. There is no vaccine or cure for hantavirus. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that hantavirus kills nearly 40 percent of the people who get it.

Tips to avoid exposure to hantavirus:

• Seal up all external holes in homes, garages and sheds larger than a dime to keep rodents from getting in.

• Eliminate rodent infestations immediately.

• Avoid rodent-infested areas and do not stir up dust or materials that may be contaminated with rodent droppings and urine.

• Do not sweep or vacuum infested areas. Clean up rodent droppings and urine using the wet cleaning method: Use rubber gloves, pray a 10 percent bleach solution or other disinfectants onto infested areas and let the disinfectant stand for at least 15 minutes before cleaning. Clean with a sponge or a mop. Place disinfected rodents and debris into two plastic bags, seal them and discard in the trash.

For more information, contact the County Department of Environmental Health (DEH) at (858) 694-2888 or visit the DEH hantavirus Web page.

— Submitted press release

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