Each spring you tackle an area that maybe has been neglected on your property - like an old shed or a section of the barn or garage. Hantavirus could be there.

According to officials, each year one or two cases of hantavirus are reported in Montana. This disease, spread by rodent droppings, can kill you.

The hantavirus cases occur throughout the year, but most often in the spring. The symptoms include fever and muscle aches and chills, headache and vomiting. Within a few days, the victim has severe shortness of breath. This, if untreated, will lead to death. The symptoms occur a week to six weeks after exposure.

Karl Milhon of the Department of Public Health and Human Services said that Montana is second only to New Mexico for reported cases of hantavirus. He said infected mice or other rodents "shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus."

So, when you raise dust by vacuuming or sweeping out that shed, cabin or camper, you need to protect yourself. In fact, Milhon said you should never sweep or vacuum possibly infected areas because it can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings. The following tips are in a news release from the Montana DPHHS.

Control the rodent population in your area is the best defense.

When cleaning:

  • wear rubber or plastic gloves.
  • thoroughly spray/soak the area with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water to reduce dust and disinfect.
  • Wipe or mop the area with a sponge or paper towel, then throw the cleaning items away.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing gloves.

    Milhon said early treatment is key to survival. If you have been exposed to rodents and experience the symptoms, see a doctor immediately. Tell the physician that you may have been exposed to hantavirus.

    Montana has had 37 reported cases since the virus was recognized in 1993. Check other information on the state DPHHS website.