Monday, January 12, 2009

Oh dear, a deer mouse under 'dere ...

A bit of a seasonal reminder:

Yesterday I trapped a deer mouse in the cabinet under our kitchen sink. Once I saw what it was, I went into full Andromeda Strain mode: I cleaned myself up, put on a mask and gloves, scrubbed under the sink, and sprayed it with a chlorine solution. I also located and plugged the hole in the back of the cabinet where I suspect the intruder entered.

Before that, though, I had already reached under and grabbed the mouse trap barehanded. And the day before, my wife had cleaned under there unprotected when she noticed mouse droppings.

We never suspected deer mice might be in our house. I had seen a mouse -- a regular gray house mouse -- scurry across our kitchen floor in December, but never found droppings under the sink and relied on the cat to keep the inside of our house generally guarded. In past winters, as well, I had trapped mice in our kitchen, but always your standard grey variety.

Deer mice generally live outdoors, and so in rural areas. So I shhhheeeerrrr was su-prised when I caught me a deer mouse, right in our house, right in downtown Durango.

Deer mice, as everyone in these here parts knows by now, carry hantavirus, and the Four Corners is one of the major places where hantavirus is found. The virus is spread through the air around infected deer mouse urine, saliva, and feces. An area where mice have been can be infectious for up to three days.

Science Daily offers this nutshell history of hantavirus:
In May 1993, an outbreak of a mysterious lung disease appeared in the Four Corners region where the boundaries of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado meet. After two deaths among young Navajos were linked, other cases soon were discovered, and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other agencies found the disease was caused by a previously unknown type of hantavirus, carried primarily by the deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus.

The new hantavirus was named the Sin Nombre virus, and the disease it caused was named hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Experts showed the disease wasn't spread among people, but from mice to people, often when mouse droppings were inhaled.

The latest, but outdated figures on the CDC Web site show that from the 1993 outbreak through March 26, 2007, there were 465 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the United States, and 35 percent of the patients died.

And in the winter, they like to move indoors, just like everyone else. Even in town, it seems.

Hence I'd like to urge everyone to be aware of the season when you might take on some unplanned -- and worrisome -- tenants. The CDC's hantavirus website urges and offers pointers for a few simple maintenance measures:
They also advise folks to keep bird feeders and woodpiles set well back from the house.

Now that we're all cleaned up, though, we're in the next phase: Seeing what happens. There is, of course, only a small chance the mouse we caught (or his cohorts) are infected -- but it's far from impossible. The only thing we can do, though, once exposed to the droppings and space where deer mice have been, is watch for symptoms: fever, deep muscle aches, and severe shortness of breath.

And keep telling all our friends to keep an eye out for unexpected houseguests ...

Read more about hantavirus symptoms here.

There's also an interesting article this month in Science Daily explaining some of the latest research on deer mice carrying hantavirus in the Four Corners.

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