San Diego, California - County officials are reminding people to be extra careful whenever they are cleaning mice and rodent nests after a mouse trapped in North County’s Pala Mesa area tested positive for the potentially deadly hantavirus disease.

The California mouse was caught in routine trapping in Pala Mesa near Old Highway 395 and was the sixth mouse that has tested positive in the county in 2014.

People have little chance of being exposed to hantavirus, even though it is common in the county, so long as mice and rodents remain in the wild — outside of people’s homes, garages, sheds and cabins.

But people can contract hantavirus if they sweep or vacuum areas where infected rodents have nested, because the disease can be inhaled if people disturb contaminated nests and rodent droppings.

“There are two important things people need to remember to help protect themselves,” said County Environmental Health Director Liz Pozzebon. “First, avoid exposure. And second, if you have to clean an area where rodents have been, do not sweep or vacuum. Use wet cleaning methods.”

How to Avoid Exposure to Hantavirus:

  • Seal up all external holes in homes, garages and sheds larger than a dime to keep rodents from getting in.
  • Eliminate rodent infestations immediately.
  • Avoid rodent-infested areas and do not stir up dust or materials that may be contaminated with rodent droppings and urine.
  • Clean up rodent droppings and urine using the wet cleaning method described below.

Use “Wet-cleaning” Methods to Prevent Inhaling the Virus:

  • DO NOT SWEEP OR VACUUM INFESTED AREAS.
  • Ventilate affected area by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes.
  • Use rubber gloves. Spray a 10 percent bleach solution or other disinfectants onto dead rodents, rodent droppings, nests, contaminated traps, and surrounding areas and let the disinfectant stand for at least 15 minutes before cleaning. Clean with a sponge or a mop.
  • Place disinfected rodents and debris into two plastic bags, seal them and discard in the trash.
  • Wash gloves in a bleach solution, then soap and water, and dispose of them using the same double-bag method.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.

Wild rodents, most notably deer mice, can carry hantavirus and shed it through their saliva, urine and feces. People can breathe in the virus if infected dust from droppings and nesting materials is stirred up and becomes airborne.

People who inhale the virus can develop hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which starts with flu-like symptoms but can grow into severe breathing difficulties that can kill. There is no vaccine, cure or specific treatment for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that it kills 38 percent of the people who get it.

For more information, contact the County Department of Environmental Health (DEH) at (858) 694-2888 or visit the DEH hantavirus Web page.