Country mice and their city cousins are a posing a serious health risk to Manitobans this fall, according to the province’s medical officer of health.
Deer mice have been spotted throughout Winnipeg as well as in rural areas, and can carry hantavirus, according to Manitoba health officer Richard Rusk. The potentially deadly virus can be transmitted in mice feces, urine and saliva, he said.
Complications from hantavirus were confirmed as the cause of death for a middle-aged Winnipeg man who died Oct. 26. It was Manitoba’s first recorded fatality from hantavirus since 2000.
According to information from the provincial health department, the virus can be passed to humans through breathing in contaminated air, accidentally rubbing the virus into eyes, mouth or broken skin, eating contaminated food or being bitten by an infected mouse.
As winter approaches, mice are seeking warm homes and many local residents and businesses are discovering the creatures have moved indoors.
Lincoln Poulin of Poulin’s Pest Control in Winnipeg said the mouse problem has reached a serious level as recent above-average winter temperatures allowed more mice to survive the season.
"The last few winters we had are ideal for breeding," he said.
Deer mice can be pale gray to reddish brown and have white fur on their belly, feet and underside of the tail.
Poulin said people often become aware of mice in their home when they spot mouse droppings but there is no way of telling whether the feces come from a deer mouse or the house variety.
"We’re not able to distinguish between the two," he said.
Rusk advised that anyone cleaning up mouse droppings, a nest or dead mice should take precautions. Those precautions include wearing plastic or rubber gloves, full-length clothing, a dust mask or respirator, and wetting droppings, nests and mouse carcasses with bleach or disinfectant. All cleaning equipment and mouse traps should be disinfected with one part household bleach to nine parts water.
Rusk said the main rule when it comes to safely cleaning up dried mouse droppings is to avoid stirring up dust.
Poulin gave some tips on reducing the chance that your home will be invaded by mice, including moving possible rodent habitats like piles of firewood, compost and lawn furniture away from your house. Bird seed and dry pet food should be stored in mouse-proof containers if they are kept in an adjoining garage. Seal up all exterior cracks using copper wool as steel wool will rust and could become a respiratory hazard.
While many city dwellers are battling more mice than usual this fall, the situation is different in some rural areas.
Shelmerdine Winnipeg Garden Center’s greenhouse manager Deanne Cram said the business sells pest control products, but there hasn’t been a rush of buyers for mousetraps in recent weeks.
For more information on hantavirus, see http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/fs/Hantavirusfs.pdf.