As southwest residents dive into spring cleaning, they should keep an eye out for a tiny rodent carrying a mighty disease. 

Health officials are reminding the public to be vigilant of hantavirus this time of year, especially when cleaning out spaces where rodent infestations may be found; hantavirus is a viral infection transmitted by deer mice, usually through their saliva, feces, or urine. 

Deputy chief medical health officer with the Ministry of Health, Julie Kryzanowski, said that exposure to the virus most often occurs when cleaning enclosed buildings or equipment and vehicles after winter. 

“It's particularly in those types of settings which are enclosed that we do want people to be watching for signs of a rodent infestation,” she said. “And as they're cleaning up to be taking precautions to protect themselves against hantavirus.” 

If signs of a rodent infestation are spotted, preventative measures include ventilating the building by opening doors and windows, and then leaving the area for at least 30 minutes before cleaning; avoiding using dry cleaning methods such as dusting and sweeping; using wet mopping methods and wear rubber or plastic gloves; wearing goggles and a well-fitting N-95 type mask when cleaning areas contaminated by droppings; dampening areas contaminated with rodent droppings with bleach and removing droppings with a damp mop; steam cleaning furniture with a detergent, disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water; and washing exposed clothes and bedding with detergent in hot water. 

While the disease is rare, individuals who suspect they may be exposed to hantavirus should monitor for symptoms, which generally occur two weeks after exposure, such as flu-like illness. If infected, a cough and shortness of breath might follow initial symptoms. 

Since 1994, 38 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome were reported in Saskatchewan and 13 of those were fatal. 

"If people are experiencing any of those symptoms after they've had an exposure to mice or their droppings, then they should call 811 or their primary care provider and explain their concerns, that they think they've been exposed and they may be experiencing symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and arrange for the appropriate medical treatment," said Kryzanowski.