Escondido, California - County officials said Wednesday that a harvest mouse trapped last week in the north Escondido-Pala area had tested positive for hantavirus - a potentially deadly disease that people can “breathe in” if they disturb contaminated rodent nests and droppings.

The discovery — combined with the fact that local residents may soon start spring-cleaning in garages, sheds and cabins because of warming temperatures — prompted County officials to remind people to be careful if they come across rodents or infestations.

County Department of Environmental Health (DEH) Director Jack Miller said although hantavirus is commonly found in San Diego County, rodents rarely pose a threat to people as long as they stay in the wild — outside of people’s homes, garages, sheds and cabins.

However, Miller said people can come into contact with infected rodents in rural, backcountry areas or urban canyons and that they should be very careful if they do come across them.

“Remember two things,” Miller said. “First, avoid exposure. Second, don’t sweep up or vacuum. Use wet cleaning methods.”

How to Avoid Exposure to Hantavirus:

  • 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:

  • 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.