HSSE SAFETY BULLETIN: Dealing with Hantavirus

What is Hantavirus?

Hantavirus infection is caused by a virus that is found in some rodents. The principal carrier is the deer mouse or white-footed mouse which is commonly found in Alberta. Hantavirus is found in the urine, saliva, or droppings of infected mice. People can contract the Hantavirus infection through inhalation of respirable droplets of saliva or urine, or through the dust of feces from infected wild rodents. Transmission can also occur when contaminated material gets into broken skin, or possibly, ingested in contaminated food or water. It causes a rare but serious lung disease called Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). The virus can cause severe illness – even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Infection

Early symptoms are similar to the flu, but can quickly develop into severe breathing problems and in some cases hantavirus infection can be fatal.

If a person is infected, the disease appears within 1–5 weeks. The disease begins as a flu-like illness. In the early stage, a worker may experience fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and gastrointestinal problems. However, the disease progresses rapidly and infected people experience an abnormal fall in blood pressure and their lungs will fill with fluid. Severe respiratory failure, resulting in death, can occur within a few days of the early stage symptoms.

Anyone who develops difficulty breathing and has recently been in an area contaminated by rodents should see a doctor immediately.

How to Prevent Exposure?

The main risk of infection comes from being exposed to accumulations of mouse droppings in enclosed areas – for example, a communications shack. Hantavirus is passed to humans when they breathe in airborne particles released from the droppings, fresh urine and nesting material of infected rodents.

The virus does not appear to cause any illness in pets. Even if they are exposed to the virus, dogs and cats do not pass the infection on to their owners. The virus is also not passed from one person to another.

  • Keep rodents out of homes and work areas, and immediately trap any that get in.
  • 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 as little as possible, mouse droppings and nesting material.
  • Wear rubber gloves to handle the droppings. 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 4L water) before you mop them up or pick up with a paper towel. Place waste in a sealed bag for disposal.
  • Do not sweep or use a vacuum cleaner to remove droppings in an enclosed space.

Required PPE

Westcan technical staff will be equipped with a disposable N95 mask and plastic gloves for any field situations where there is potential for exposure. This is a field level hazard and should be identified and controlled during your Field Level Hazard Assessment.
Wear rubber or plastic gloves
A disposable N95 respirator is to be used when conducting Maintenance activities for which there is a known or probable rodent contamination.
If cleaning the space, a High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered mask is required.

Additional Resources:

Alberta Health
Work Safe Alberta

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