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Rats!: Hantavirus Carriers Could Be on the Rise

June 27, 2008

By John Norton, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

Jun. 27–Local health officials say that the population of cotton rats, designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as hantavirus carriers, may have increased in the county, particularly in Pueblo West.

Cotton rats are a native Western Hemisphere rodent, smaller than the dreaded brown rats that tend to enjoy urban areas. Their faces are stubbier and their bodies about 5 to 7 inches long with tails of 3 to 4 inches.

Mostly herbivores that are active both at night and during the day, they tend to live outside but will follow food sources, health officials said.

Vicki Carlton, of the Pueblo City-County Health Department Environmental Health Division, said, that trappings and complaints could indicate an increase in the cotton rat population. Additional vegetation can cause the population to increase.

She said that people should take precautions when cleaning up after the animals and recommended the following: Make home or work areas unattractive to rodents. Keep outdoor areas clean. Clean up trash, weeds and brush around your home.

Store food in rodent-proof containers and properly dispose of garbage in sealed containers. This includes pet, livestock and bird food.

Rodent-proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways. Conduct year-round rodent control, using traps or poisons, or hire a professional exterminator.

Remove rodent hiding places such as wood, junk and brush piles. Store firewood at least 100 feet from the house. Keep vegetation around the house well trimmed.

Feed birds where rodents cannot access the seeds or bird feed.

Use caution when cleaning out enclosed areas such as trailers, cabins, barns or sheds. Open doors or windows to provide good ventilation for 30 to 60 minutes before cleaning out structures. Avoid stirring up dust by watering down areas of mouse infestation with a mixture of bleach and water. A bleach mixture of one cup of bleach per gallon of water is recommended.

When cleaning thoroughly soak down potentially contaminated areas with the bleach mixture.

Use rubber gloves to pick up saturated waste, including nesting materials or dead mice. Double bag the waste using plastic bags, and bury or dispose of in an outdoor garbage can or landfill.

Disinfect gloves with bleach and water before removing. Wash hands afterward.

In cases of severe infestation, or when ventilation and dust suppression are not possible, use a rubber face mask equipped with a high efficiency particulate air filter.

People camping in rural areas should avoid sleeping on bare ground. Instead, use tents or ground covers.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

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