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New Mexicans Urged to Be Mindful When Summer Cleaning

SANTA FE, NM - The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) today reports the death of a 42-year-old McKinley County woman from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). This is the second case of HPS confirmed in New Mexico in 2019 and the first death. The NMDOH has completed an environmental investigation at the woman’s home to help reduce further risk to others.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is a severe, respiratory disease in humans that is fatal in approximately 40 percent of cases. Here in New Mexico, the deer mouse is the main carrier for Sin Nombre virus, the hantavirus strain, that can be transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva that contain the microscopic virus. People can contract the disease when they breathe in virus that is suspended in the air, but it is not contagious from one person to another. 

“We urge New Mexicans to be mindful when they are opening up sheds, cabins, and other buildings that have been closed up as mice and other rodents may have moved in,” said Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel.  “Stirring up dust in areas where rodents hang out – that includes everything from nests to droppings - can cause the virus to get into the air where the particles can be breathed in. It’s best to air out cabins and sheds before entering them and wet down droppings with a disinfectant.”

The NMDOH encourages both healthcare providers and the public to become familiar with the signs of hantavirus infection: Early symptoms include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain and cough which rapidly progresses to respiratory distress. These signs typically develop within one to six weeks after rodent exposure. Although there is no specific treatment for HPS, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early. Patients are encouraged to tell their provider if they have had an exposure to rodents, their nests or droppings within the two months prior to their illness. 

Important steps to prevent contracting hantavirus include:

  • Air out closed-up buildings, storage rooms, trailers, cabins and overwintered vehicles before entering.
  • Trap mice until they are all gone.
  • Soak down rodent nests and droppings using a disinfectant before cleaning up.
  • Don’t sweep rodent droppings into the air where they can be inhaled.
  • Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
  • Get rid of trash and junk piles to reduce attracting rodents.
  • Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where mice can get to it.

NMDOH reported a case of HPS just last month in another McKinley County woman who survived. In 2017, there were five cases of HPS with in New Mexico and no cases in 2018. For more information, visit the Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndromesection of our website, https://nmhealth.org/. 

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