The Washington state Department of Health says the death of a Grant County man in his 20s was due to hantavirus and is the first case reported this year in Washington state.

Hantavirus is spread by the feces of rodents.

The virus has claimed 19 victims in Washington state since 1985.

Hantavirus has been more common in Eastern Washington, according to the Washington state Department of Health. Deer mice are the carriers of the virus east of the Cascades.

Grant County Health District (GCHD) officials believe the recent death involved a man who was most likely exposed to infected rodents in a vehicle.
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Humans can be exposed to hantavirus by breathing in contaminated dust from either urine or droppings of deer mice.  Their nests or anything the rodents have come into contact with present a danger if a person touches objects and then their nose or mouth.

Sheds, cabins or vehicles,  as was the case for the Grant County victim, are the types of enclosed spaces with little air circulation and present the greatest potential for exposure.

Virus symptoms

  • Appearing one to eight weeks after exposure
  • Possible fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea or diarrhea.
  • Breathing difficulties shortness of breath, coughing and a tightening of the chest  require hospitalization.

Hantavirus disease is fatal in about 1/3rd of the cases.

To avoid exposure in a space infested with deer mice

GCHD recommends the space be aired out for at least a 30 minute period before entering the structure.

When cleaning up a shed or barn, avoid the use of brooms or vacuums.  You don't want to stir up the contaminated dust or feces residue.

Instead, wet any contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution or disinfectant liquid and let it soak a minimum of 10 minutes before cleaning.

When removing any fecal, nest material or dead mice, soak thoroughly with the cleaning solution and dispose of it and all cleaning materials double-bagged.

Heavy infestations are perhaps best left to professional cleaners with experience handling the dangerous work.

Vehicles left idle or seldom used can be infiltrated by rodents through rusted out holes, vents and other openings. Mice can build nests inside engine compartments, the air intake system, trunk areas, spare tire compartments, even glove boxes.

To avoid infestations, GCHD suggests sealing holes and gaps into buildings and vehicles and remove places for rodents to hide like wood piles or garbage piles.

Learn more from Grant County Health District

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