Washoe County resident dies of hantavirus

Dec 9, 2020

The Washoe County Health District is reporting the first hantavirus death in 2020. The deceased is a male in his 20s and lived in the southern portion of Washoe County.

The resident was likely exposed to rodent droppings and was later hospitalized.

“We are saddened to report this death due to hantavirus,” said Kevin Dick, District Health Officer for Washoe County Health District. “While rare, this disease is very serious and a reminder for other residents to be very careful in areas where rodents, especially deer mice, are active. Our thoughts go out to the family of this resident.”

It’s estimated that 38 percent of all hantavirus cases are fatal. This is the third hantavirus death in Washoe County since May of 2019.

Infected rodents, most commonly deer mice, shed the virus in their droppings, urine, and saliva. Hantavirus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus. It may also be transmitted if a person touches something contaminated with droppings, urine, or saliva and then touches their nose or mouth.

This typically occurs when working or recreating in areas where mouse droppings, urine, or saliva may have collected or when cleaning up rodent droppings or nesting material.

Hikers and campers may be at higher risk if they are in areas that are common for heavy rodent infestation such as old cabins, stables, and barns. Scientists also suspect that people can become sick if they eat food contaminated by droppings, urine, or saliva from an infected rodent.

The Health District urges everyone to take precautions when entering spaces where mice may have been present, such as storage places, garages, sheds, cabins and barns. Since rodents show no signs of hantavirus, it is best to avoid all wild mice and rats and to safely clean up any rodent urine, droppings, or nests in your home.

Listed below are specific guidelines to follow when cleaning in areas with rodent activity:

  • Do not sweep or vacuum the area with urine, droppings, or nesting material.
  • A solution of 1-part bleach to 10 parts water should be used when cleaning urine and/or droppings. Let it set for 5 minutes before cleaning the area.
  • Wear gloves (i.e., latex, vinyl, rubber) and a face mask to avoid touching or breathing in viral particles.
  • Identify areas where mice are getting in and set traps.
  • Identify and plug openings that may allow rodents entry. A deer mouse can fit through an opening the size of a nickel.  Plug holes using steel wool and put caulk around the steel wool to keep in in place.

For additional information on hantavirus, visit https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/index.html  

The Washoe County Health District is nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board and has jurisdiction over all public health matters in Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County through the policy-making Washoe County District Board of Health. The District consists of five divisions: Administrative Health Services, Air Quality Management, Community and Clinical Health Services, Environmental Health Services and Epidemiology & Public Health Preparedness. More info can be found here.