If you’ve ever had a service related job, be it in a call centre or being a waitress or any IT department, you likely have “a story” about a customer. Over the years, I’ve had several. One of my favourites was a gentleman from New York State. It was spring time. He was getting ready to launch his boat and he found a mouse nest. When he first launched into his story, he was so panicked I thought we were dealing with an infestation and hundreds of nests and mouse poop as far as the eye could see. I eventually teased out the fact that we were dealing with a single nest, there were no mice around and he had recently watched a TV program on zoonotic diseases that cause death and was concerned he had caught Hantavirus.
Hantavirus can cause severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease in humans that is spread by several types of rodents. Thankfully, only a very few number of human Hantavirus infection cases are reported each year. Deer mice in particular are known to carry the virus and shed the virus through urine, saliva and poop. People can pick up the virus by breathing in virus particles when cleaning up after the mice (e.g. sweeping up a nest or poop). You can also get infected if bitten or if you touch broken skin with infected material.
Boatman, knowing he could get Hantavirus from cleaning up after a mouse, was beyond agitated, as his boat was small, he had been cleaning and sweeping with no PPE prior to finding the nest and was concerned he had inhaled enough dust to get sick. I’m not a medical doctor. I do not have the credentials to diagnose people and certainly I’m not going to speculate with a stranger over the phone. The best I can do is help calm his fears by giving him information on how to clean up the mess in a way that will limit transmission.
This weekend is a long weekend to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. There will be a lot of cottage openings and more than a few boat launches. If like me, you’re heading to cottage country, here are a few tips if you come across a mouse nest or mouse poop.
1. Wear gloves.
2. Do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming.
3. Spray a disinfectant onto the material and let sit for the contact time as noted on the product label.
4. Use a paper towel to pick up the poop or other material and dispose in the garbage.
5. Re-apply the disinfectant, again over the entire area and ensure the contact time is met.
Luckily, Hantavirus is an enveloped virus and is easy to kill when it comes to disinfectants. While it can be frightening, coming across a nest and mouse poop, as long as you take some simple precautions the risk of contracting Hantavirus is low.
To my Canadian readers – Happy May 2-4 weekend!