Have you ever googled “hantavirus symptoms”?



I have — a few times.  I’ve cleaned out lots of yucky buildings in my life.  See, we Blakes have lived in 7 different houses since we were married 13 years ago, and at every new-to-us home we’ve lived in, I’ve undertaken some sort of “mousy” project.  Not necessarily the house (most of the houses we’ve lived in have been decently clean), but usually an outbuilding or two that some voice inside me dictated I just had to spiff up.  I’ve always said that my goal was to leave every place we’ve lived looking better than it did before we moved in.  In the end, I’ve invested a lot of time and grunt work into tidying up other folks’ properties… and probably no one but me really cares.

But at least I’ll always know I did the right thing at each place.  Right?  Right.

My latest project along these lines is what we call the “big house” — the main ranch house here at the VX.  There are three livable houses at the VX, all part of the purchase when our employer bought the land a couple years ago.  Yet because the ranch proper treats the VX as a one-family cow camp, we really only need one house here.  Since we Blakes moved into the VX almost two years ago, we’ve been in limbo over which house we’re supposed to be living in.  We previously had high hopes that the big house (again, it’s the main ranch house) would receive some needed updates and that we would move into it, which makes total sense because it’s located right at the heart of the VX buildings — right next to the shop, the bunkhouse, the barn and the corrals.

In the meantime, we’ve been living about a half mile down the road from the other ranch buildings in what we call “the modular,” a nice home that a previous ranch investor used as a hunting camp.  We’ve just kind of been waiting for the big house to be approved for remodeling by our corporate office.  For a long time we assumed we’d be moving into the big house any day now.

But… most likely our wait has been in vain.  (For more on the housing, check out my previous blog Big Decisions.)


Still, I can’t quite make myself leave that big house alone.  (That’s it, pictured above.)  I guess that, true to my style, I want to leave it just a little nicer than it was when we got here.  So… I’ve been doing some cleaning over there.  Nothing major; just kind of going through the forgotten treasures left by previous inhabitants and keeping what we want, burning a little trash, sweeping up, etc.

The big house basement has a serious water problem, in that (as far as we can tell, anyway) groundwater just sort of seeps in through the walls and floors.  (This little quirk is part of the reason the corporate bigwigs have been leery of a remodel.)  The thing is, since we Blakes are the only folks who are on the property on a regular basis, we kind of feel responsible for taking care of the old house.  It seems a shame to let it melt into the ground.  So we pump out the water that seeps into the basement and we still mow the grass around the old thing… even though it’s probably all for nought.  (Another related blog:  The mowing of the weeds.)

Anyhow, I got off on a tangent there.  Clearly I’m not going to solve all the world’s problems today, and the real problem at hand (see blog title) is hantavirus.  You know, hantavirus, that sickness one can contract from handling mouse droppings.

Now, when a gal is cleaning in places like the big house basement, she runs across mouse droppings.  And the other day was no exception.  Our 12-year-old nephew was visiting and I took advantage of his help and we tackled the basement together — I with the baby on my back and he trying hard to distract the 5-year-old and the 3-year-old so that I could actually finish the work down there.  We pumped out yucky water.  We pried open windows to air the darn place out (we now have mold in the basement on top of all the other issues, thanks to my lack of attention to the water problem, thank you very much).  We sorted through plunder left behind by the folks who moved out after 20+ years at the VX and left a lot of stuff.  And, yes, we swept up some mouse poop.

When I got back to the modular after cleaning at the big house the other day, I felt some satisfaction in the work we’d accomplished over there.  But I also felt dirty.  And I started to worry about hantavirus, just as I do every time I clean up mouse droppings.  Worse this time, though:  I felt guilty, because I had not only endangered myself with my mouse-droppings project, but I had also dragged the kids along with me.

Because googling medical ailments is proven to make a patient feel better (ha!), I decided to google “hantavirus symptoms.”  I’ve looked up the same before, always following a mouse-droppings-cleaning binge, the likes of which is always followed by a paralyzing fear that I’m going to keel over in a day or two from a foggy, blurry ailment I know little about called hantavirus.

So.  It’s actually called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, and though incubation time is not positively known, symptoms can develop between 1 and 8 weeks after a person’s exposure to fresh urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents.

Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches.  Then, 4 to 10 days after the initial symptoms, the late symptoms appear.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, “These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a ‘tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face’ as the lungs fill with fluid.”

Well.  I felt quite a lot better when I saw that the CDC article quoted a survivor, because up until googling hantavirus this time around, I had been certain that it boasted a 100% mortality rate.  But turns out the hantavirus mortality rate is only 38%.  Whew.  That means if I (or we) get hantavirus, we’re more than likely to survive it.

And truthfully, I don’t really think we’ll get it.  The mouse droppings we cleaned this week didn’t appear to be especially fresh.  Still, excuse me if I appear to be somewhat on edge for the next 8 weeks.  I’m going to be on the lookout for initial symptoms… just in case.

© Tami Blake

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