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Public Health

North Dakotans are putting away their winter boots and opening their cabins, sheds and other outdoor spaces that were not used during the winter season. Cleaning these spaces is essential, but North Dakota Health and Human Services (HHS) wants to remind North Dakotans that hantavirus exposure is more likely to occur in one of these places, and it is important to take precautions and properly clean the areas to avoid infection.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (hantavirus) is spread by infected rodents through their urine, droppings and saliva. In some cases, the virus is spread if an infected rodent bites someone. Hantavirus is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease, and healthy individuals are still at risk if exposed.

Early symptoms include fever, muscle aches and fatigue. There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for it. However, if individuals with severe symptoms are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, patients are intubated and given oxygen therapy to help them through the period of severe respiratory distress.

Surveillance of hantavirus began in 1993. Since then, North Dakota has reported 19 cases through the year 2023, with nine of the cases being fatal.

HHS offers the following tips to avoid hantavirus infection when cleaning a building with signs of rodent infestation:

  • Ventilate the space by opening the doors and windows for 30 minutes before you start cleaning.
  • Wear gloves and use a general-purpose household disinfectant cleaning product when cleaning up dead rodents or their urine, droppings and nests.
  • Soak the material with disinfectant for at least five minutes before removal. 
  • Mop floors and clean countertops, cabinets and drawers with disinfectant.
  • Use a commercial disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and follow the label instructions or use a bleach solution made with one part bleach and ten parts water.
  • Do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming up rodent droppings, urine or nesting materials.
  • Do not let children play in crawl spaces or vacant buildings where rodents may be present.

For more information, visit www.hhs.nd.gov/health/diseases-conditions/hantavirus.

More details about important precautions to minimize the risk of hantavirus are online at www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/pdf/HantavirusBrochure-508.pdf.

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