Spring and summer are great times to clean up barns and sheds, but some precautions should be taken so exposure to any accumulations of mouse droppings in those enclosed areas does not result in respiratory problems.
Taking precautions to avoid hantavirus infection is something that farmers should practice as a general rule. The main risk of infection, according to Alberta Health information, comes from being exposed to accumulations of mouse droppings in enclosed areas where mice have overwintered. Hantavirus is passed to humans when they breathe in airborne particles released from the droppings, fresh urine and nesting material of infected rodents.
The most effective precaution against infection is to keep rodents out of homes and work areas, and immediately trap any that get in. However, when entering an enclosed space where mice may have been nesting, take the necessary precautions:
• ventilate enclosed areas before cleaning by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes – stay out of the area while it airs out
• when you begin cleaning, disturb any mouse droppings and nesting material as little as possible
• wear rubber gloves to handle the droppings, and rinse the gloves in disinfectant (such as bleach solution or soap and water) before taking them off
• soak droppings with disinfectant (1.5 cups bleach to one gallon water) before you mop them up or pick up with a paper towel
• place droppings and nesting material in a sealed bag and bury it, or put it out for removal in garbage cans with tight-fitting lids
• do not sweep or use a vacuum cleaner to remove droppings in an enclosed space
• people who are likely to be exposed to high levels of contamination or in spaces with little ventilation should wear masks
The only confirmed carrier of the hantavirus in Alberta is the deer mouse. The incidence of the hantavirus and the risk it poses to the public is low, but when one considers its potential severity, it is recommended to keep any risk to a minimum and take precautions to avoid hantavirus infection. Preventing hantavirus is easy when using a few simple precautions.