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Maine Camps: Opening Camp? Watch Out for Mice!

In mid-May, Maine’s Center for Disease Control & Prevention confirmed the state’s first case of hantavirus, a potentially deadly virus carried by mice and rats. A Somerset County man in his mid-70s is recovering from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Most of us with camps in Maine come in contact with rodent scat pretty frequently, especially when opening camp in the spring. Here’s the recommended procedure:

Clean with water. The virus is contracted from airborne particles, so spray your mousy areas with a light bleach solution or cleaning solution until wet, before wiping them down with disposable cloths or paper towels. If you have a big area to clean or vacuum, like under the bunk beds or the porch, try to use a vacuum with a hepa filter, and get some disposable face masks from the drug store on the way up to camp. Use gloves while you’re washing the floor.

Don’t breath the dust. If mice have made a winter home in the towels or the sheet drawer, gently put the mouse nest articles in a trash bag. Take the drawer outside to empty it. Don’t scatter bedding articles around.

photo: Jim Evans/Morning Sentinel

Keep foodstuffs properly contained. Researchers at the CDC suspect that people can contract hantavirus by eating contaminated food. Rinse those mixing bowls and the salad bowl that you store on top of the fridge before you use them, and don’t let mice run around on your cutting board or nap on your napkins or sample your potato chips.

Use common sense. Get the camp cleaned up before frail grandparents arrive, or newborns. While hantavirus can be fatal, it’s still rare in Maine. The Somerset County victim lived in a house that mice also called home, and hadn’t traveled outside of Maine. No word on whether the mice had traveled, or how THEY got exposed to hantavirus…..

Control your rodent populations. Invite the cat to camp, or set traps. In my own experience, the mouse population plummets as soon as we start spending time at camp (at least we think it does) but there’s often evidence in the morning, especially if someone left cracker crumbs out or the cookie jar open.  This year, we’ll keep a spray bottle of weak bleach solution by the sink and clean the counter (and anywhere else necessary) every morning with paper towels.

People become infected after breathing fresh airborn urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting materials, or when these materials come in contact with broken skin, the nose or the mouth. There is no specific treatment or cure for hantavirus infection. Officials said hantavirus pulmonary syndrome comes on quickly (within 1 to 5 weeks of exposure, according to the CDC).  Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups-thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms. There is no effective vaccine or cure, and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome has a fatality rate of 30-40%, so if you’ve shared living space with mice and become suddenly ill, tell your doctor.

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