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NEWS Improving and Protecting the Health, Well-Being
and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

May 21, 2013


Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Health officials confirm Montana Hantavirus death

Health officials in Carbon and Gallatin counties confirmed two new cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) and the first HPS related death in Montana in 2013. A resident of Gallatin County in her twenties is the 10th reported death in Montana due to the virus since 1993.  The second case is in a male in his forties from Carbon County.  Both persons appear to have recent rodent exposures. 

These two new cases increase to 37 the number of Hantavirus cases reported in Montana since 1993.  Montana typically sees one or two cases a year and is second only to New Mexico in the number of cases per 100,000 population.  

“Montanans should be aware of the precautions they can take to avoid Hantavirus and the rodents that can carry it,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “People can contract the illness when they breathe in air contaminated by the virus. It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming if signs of rodents are present. We are coming up on long holiday weekends and people will be out cleaning up their garages, sheds and summer cabins.  Protecting yourself and cleaning correctly is essential.”    

Hantavirus is not transmitted from person to person. The greatest risk is associated with exposure to rodent feces in closed, dry areas.  All Montanans can protect themselves from Hantavirus by taking some simple precautions.

“The risk here is mostly for people who live, sleep, work or play in closed areas where mice or other rodents live,” said DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Steven Helgerson. “For people who fall into that category, it is always important to take precautions.”

While Hantavirus cases can occur during any month, spring and summer months present more opportunities for exposure as people clean cabins, outbuildings and campers or recreate outdoors and come in contact with mouse and rat nesting materials. 

According to Dr. Helgerson, early symptoms of Hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, and sometimes chills, headache and vomiting. Within a few days, symptoms progress to coughing and severe shortness of breath. The symptoms develop one to six weeks after exposure.

“Early recognition by individuals and providers tied to immediate medical care are key to surviving the illness,” Helgerson said. “If someone is exposed to rodents and experiences symptoms- especially severe shortness of breath, they need to seek treatment right away. Telling your doctor about any rodent exposure will alert your physician to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as Hantavirus”.

The best way to prevent Hantavirus transmission is to control rodent populations in areas where one lives and works. When cleaning areas where rodents may nest, the following precautions should be followed: 

  • Wear rubber or plastic gloves
  • Thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of 1.5 cups of bleach to a gallon of water to disinfect and reduce dry dusty conditions in the area being cleaned 
  • Wipe or mop the area with a sponge or paper towel (throw away items after use)
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing gloves
  • Never sweep or vacuum in these areas as this can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings  

For more information about Hantavirus go to http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/index.shtml

Page last updated 05/21/2013