SAN LUIS VALLEY – Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a rare but severe respiratory disease in humans caused by infection with sin nombre hantavirus. Most cases of HPS occur in early spring and summer in conjunction with activities like spring cleaning, especially in places such as sheds or cabins that may have been closed for most of the winter.
HPS is very serious. It is fatal for more than one-third of individuals who develop the disease. In the San Luis Valley, hantavirus is carried by deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). Humans can be exposed by breathing in the virus when rodent urine and droppings containing the virus are stirred up into the air, or by touching rodents, their droppings, or their nesting materials. Rodent control in and around homes and outbuildings is the best way to prevent hantavirus infection. Before cleaning an area that may have had rodents present, open doors and windows to let the space air out first. Spray droppings and nesting materials with a bleach solution and let them sit for a few minutes before gently scooping them into a plastic bag for disposal.
Symptoms of HPS may show up 1-8 weeks after exposure. Early universal symptoms always include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches—especially in the large muscle groups- thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. In about half of all cases there are additional symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems. Late symptoms of coughing and difficulty breathing may appear 4-10 days later, as the lungs fill with fluid. Rapid medical care is critical at this stage. If you experience symptoms, especially after activities that may have exposed you to the virus, seek medical care and be sure to tell your medical provider about your possible exposure.