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Take steps to protect your family

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Tips outline how to combat the plague and Hantavirus

By The Staff

LAS CRUCES — As the weather becomes warmer in New Mexico, it is important to follow a few simple steps that can help prevent the spread of diseases such as Hantavirus and plague.  

 Hantavirus is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva. People can contract the disease when they breathe in the aerosolized virus. The deer mouse is the main carrier for Hantavirus in New Mexico.

Early symptoms of Hantavirus are fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough. These symptoms develop within one to six weeks after rodent exposure. Although there is no specific treatment for Hantavirus, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early.

To protect yourself from Hantavirus:

• Air out closed up buildings before entering.

• Seal up homes and cabins so mice can’t enter.

• Trap mice until they are all gone.

• Clean up nests and droppings using a disinfectant.

• Put hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from your home.

• Get rid of trash and junk piles.

• Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where mice can get to them.

There were four cases of Hantavirus in New Mexico in 2009. None of the cases were fatal. In 2008 there were two fatal cases of Hantavirus. The first was a 64 year-old man from Taos County who became ill in February. The second was a 22 year-old woman from Otero County who became ill in November. There were three cases in 2007, one of which was fatal. The cases were from Taos, San Miguel and McKinley counties.

Though plague and Hantavirus are both spread by rodents, the diseases are very different, so it is important to follow all the prevention recommendations listed for each disease to keep your family safe.   

Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents and is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, but can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, wildlife and pets.

Most people become ill two to seven days after being infected with the plague bacteria. Symptoms of bubonic plague in humans include fever, painful swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck areas, chills, and sometimes headache, vomiting, and diarrhea.

To prevent cases of plague, the Department of Health recommends:

• Avoid sick or dead rodents.

• Teach children not to play near rodent nests or burrows.

• Treat pets regularly with an effective flea control product.

• Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live.

• Keep pets from roaming and hunting.

• Take sick pets to a veterinarian promptly.

There were six cases of human Plague in 2009 with one fatality. There was one human case of plague in 2008 in an Eddy County man who got the disease from hunting rabbits. There were five human plague cases with one fatality in 2007.

For more information about plague and Hantavirus visit the Department of Health’s websites at www.nmhealth.org/epi/plague.html and www.nmhealth.org/epi/hanta.html.

Chris J. Minnick writes for the New Mexico Department of Health.  Minnick can be reached at christopher.minnick@state.nm.us.