The Montana Department of Health and Human Services says residents need to be alert for Hantavirus this spring. Hantavirus can cause a life threatening infection more than a third of reported cases are fatal.
Hantavirus is carried in the droppings of some rodents, particularly deer mice.
A person can become infected when they breathe air that's been contaminated, typically when dust with droppings is disturbed during sweeping or vacuuming.
Since being discovered in 1993 it's killed 10 people in Montana, including a Gallatin County woman last year.
Amy Kuenzi and Rick Douglass were in a recent special on the Hantavirus done by the Weather Channel. They're checking traps in the woods, for deer mice, one of the carriers of the Hantavirus.
"Most people get infected in and around human dwellings where mice have been and come in and out of sheds and garages and barns," said Kuenzi.
The virus lives in the urine, saliva and droppings of the rodents and is transmitted to people when it's sent into the air, typically during cleaning.
Kuenzi and Douglass have been studying the Hantavirus for nearly 20 years.
"Take a blood sample, put an ear tag on them, weigh them and turn them loose where we captured them," said Douglass.
There is a reason they are located here in Montana.
"In Montana," explained Douglass. "The data indicates that we have more deer mice with a higher infection rate than anywhere else that has ever been studied."
That means the likelihood of finding infected mice in a trap is higher that it would be in a place like New Mexico, which actually has higher reported infection rate.
Kuenzi and Douglass said Hantavirus is something you need to take seriously, especially this time of year when you might be going into cabins, barns or outbuilding for the first time in a couple of months.
"If you do get HPS you have a 33 or 38 percent chance of dying and 100 percent chance of a very expensive medical intensive care," said Douglass.
Kuenzi and Douglass say right now one of the most important things to do is educate people about the dangers and how they can protect themselves.
"You can post all the signs you want. Who reads signs? In Montana they're for shooting at. So if it's on the news, people become aware of it and are more cautious," said Douglass.
And when you do begin your spring cleaning, start with by spraying the area down with a bleach solution and wear a mask to prevent you from breathing in contaminated air.
The symptoms of the Hantavirus are similar to the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it starts with fever and severe muscle aches and fatigue, and progresses to include headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.