Provincial health authorities urged Manitobans Friday to take precautions when cleaning mouse droppings as they confirmed a rare death from hantavirus.
A middle-aged Winnipegger died of the viral lung infection last week. It was the first hantavirus fatality in the province since 2000.
Health officials refused to identify him.
Dr. Richard Rusk, a provincial medical officer of health, said officials are not certain whether the man was infected at home or at his cottage. He apparently cleaned up after mice in both places in recent weeks.
The health official refused to identify the cottage community, except to say it was on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. "If you pinpoint a specific community our worry is that you create a lot of panic within that community when this is a very rare occurrence," he said.
In Canada, hantavirus occurs mainly in the four western provinces. There have been about 70 recorded cases of the disease across the nation.
People who contract the infection will suffer severe flu-like symptoms. The symptoms develop within one to six weeks of exposure. Prompt treatment is imperative since the mortality rate is about 50 per cent.
"So, if you're feeling like this is the worst flu and you've had that sort of exposure (to mice droppings), then definitely you don't want to say I'm going to be able to fight this off," Rusk said.
Past surveys in Manitoba have shown about 11 per cent of deer mice have been infected with the virus, a 2006 Manitoba fact sheet says.
Health officials warn people not to vacuum or sweep mouse droppings as that can stir up dust that can be inhaled and attack the lungs. It's better to dampen the droppings with disinfectant and remove them with a damp mop or cloth.
Rusk said the province is setting traps "in the local vicinity" of the Winnipeg man's home and cottage to try to pinpoint the virus.
The latest death is the third recorded in Manitoba from hantavirus. There have been only four lab-confirmed cases of it since record-keeping began in 1999. Deaths occurred in 1999, 2000 and this past week. There was a case in 2007, and that person recovered.
There is no vaccine for hantavirus. If someone becomes ill with the disease, doctors will try to keep the patient's lungs working while antiviral drugs kick in. Patients may end up in intensive care.
There has been no documentation in North America of the virus being spread from person to person, nor is it spread from pets or livestock. However, cats and dogs may bring infected mice into contact with humans.
How to protect yourself
What is hantavirus? Hantavirus infection is a rare viral disease found in the urine, saliva or droppings of infected deer mice. It attacks people's lungs.
How is it spread? The virus is spread to people when they breathe in air or dust contaminated by deer mouse saliva, urine or feces, or they rub their eyes, mouth or broken skin with infected deer mouse droppings.
What are the symptoms? Symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, abdominal pain and shortness of breath.
How common is it? There have been four cases and three deaths in Manitoba since 1999.
What precautions can you take?
Avoid disturbing areas of rodent infestation;
Seal homes and cabins so mice can't enter;
Air out enclosed areas or closed-up buildings before entering;
Wear gloves and masks when cleaning nests, droppings and areas that may be contaminated;
Dampen areas contaminated with mouse droppings with bleach disinfectant and remove droppings with a damp mop or cloth;
Wash your hands after cleanup;
Put hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from homes;
Store pet food and water so mice can't get to them.
For more information, go to: www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/fs/Hantavirusfs.pdf .
-- source: Province of Manitoba