With the weather warm and the sun shining, now is the time of year for cleaning up the yard, decluttering the house, and digging into old boxes and attics to make space.
While this summer cleaning is music to garage sale lovers’ ears, you can sometimes get more than you bargained for when you finally get to that corner of boxes in your basement or barn.
In Teton Valley, it’s common to find evidence of rodents taking up residence in your long-forgotten possessions, and this can put you at risk for a very serious illness: Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).
As of April, 639 cases of HPS had been reported throughout the U.S. this year, with Idaho, Wyoming and Utah reporting 21, 11 and 33 incidences respectively. HPS is more common in rural areas, and it can be fatal.
The virus is transmitted to humans most commonly when we breathe in air contaminated by the virus, which is carried by mice, including deer mice common to this area as well as white-footed mice, cotton rats, and rice rats. We are susceptible to breathing in tiny droplets of the virus when we disturb droppings, urine or nesting materials of infected mice. We can also contract HPS if we are bitten by an infected rodent or by eating food contaminated in some way by the virus. It is important to note, however, that not every mouse is infected with HPS.
- People are more likely to contract HPS if they:
- Open and clean long unused buildings or sheds
- Houseclean, particularly in attics and other low-traffic areas
- Have a home or work space infested by rodents
- Have a job that involves exposure to rodents
- Camp, hike or hunt in the wilderness
The Centers for Disease Control reports that symptoms of HPS can develop between 1 and 5 weeks after exposure to fresh urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. Early symptoms include:
- Fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the larger muscle groups such as the thighs, hips and back
- Headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain
Late symptoms, which can occur 4 to 10 days after the initial phase of the illness, include coughing and shortness of breath.
The loss of breath is caused by the lungs filling with fluid, which can be fatal. As well, blood pressure will begin to drop and ultimately organs will begin to fail. The Mayo Clinic reports the mortality rate for the North American variety of HPS at more than 30 percent.
See your provider if you experience any of the symptoms above or if you suspect you may have contracted hantavirus.
Treatment can include hospitalization and assisted respiration through intubation or mechanical ventilation. In rare cases, blood oxygenation may also be used.
The best way to stay free of hantavirus is to minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace or campsite. You can do this by sealing up holes inside and outside of your home to keep rodents out, trapping rodents around your home to reduce their population and taking precautions when cleaning rodent-infested areas.
These precautions are:
- Wear disposable gloves
- Wet down dead rodents and areas where they have been with alcohol, household disinfectants or bleach.
- Follow that by disinfecting the area with a mop or sponge
- Wear a respirator if you are cleaning heavily infested areas
For more information on HPS visit http://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hps/index.html
Dr. Nathan Levanger is the Chief of Medical Staff at Teton Valley Health Care. He specializes in family medicine and sees patients at Driggs Health Clinic and Teton Valley Hospital. Call (208) 354-2302 to make an appointment.More
Skin Cancer: The facts
• Skin cancers are common in our community due to our high altitude
• Changes in moles or wounds that do not heal require medical attention
• Prevention is important; if you work or play outside, sunblock is critical and should be reapplied every two hours
• These cancers don’t go away, they only get worse, and are harder to treat when ignored
Q. What is the largest organ in the human body?
A. The skin
Your skin covers a large surface area and is subject to scrapes, cuts, sun, snow, hot sidewalks and spills of all types. It’s important that we don’t overlook our skin when considering our overall health.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and living in a high altitude, sunny environment puts us at a greater risk. Other risk factors include:
- Sun exposure – spending a lot of time outdoors
- Blistering sunburns – if you experienced several blistering sunburns as a child or teen
- Skin color – if you have fair skin, blond, red or light brown hair, blue eyes or freckles
- Artificial tanning – if you use tanning booths, beds or sunlamps
With all that we know about what can cause skin cancer, gone should be the days of baby oil , a book, and a day in the sun.
While there are several kinds of skin cancer, these can be divided into three common types:
Basal cell cancer – This type of cancer is locally aggressive, meaning if you leave it alone, it will just get bigger. It may not spread to other organs but may be become more and more difficult to treat, becoming unsightly, bleeding and disfiguring. Local excision (conservative surgical removal) is the usual treatment. Depending on the location, other approaches may be used such as medication or freezing with liquid nitrogen. These cancers may appear as chronically flaking skin or a sore that will not heal or constant bleeding.
Squamous cell cancers are more aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body and lymph glands. They can appear as a non-healing or bleeding ulcer. They may have a ridge around the center that is raised. A low volcano may be a good analogy of what these look like. Unlike the basal cells, the surgery needs to be more aggressive with a larger margin clear edges) around the specimen. The skin cancer and the surrounding edges may be checked at the time of the surgery with a frozen section (immediate analysis) or await the final definitive examination. It is important not to ignore these as they can grow in locations that may make treatment very difficult and disfiguring as well as life threatening. Sometimes plastic and reconstructive surgery is required to properly treat these cancers.
Melanoma is the third type of skin cancer and is becoming more prevalent. It is usually dark , and irregular. A crushed black berry on the skin is a good description. It is often raised above the level of the skin, various shades of color. It is can be seen on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Any dark moles in these areas are reason for serious concern. Melanomas can be slow growing or rapidly spread and cause death. They can spread to the lymph nodes under the arm or in the groin. They can be found on the trunk as well as the arms and legs. They are categorized as to how thick they measure under the microscope as well as what levels of the skin they penetrate. Deeper and thicker melanomas require the lymph nodes to be evaluated as well.