Working as we do with old items often stored in attics and basements and barns and storage units, we are potentially exposed to many problematic situations, such as finding black mold in upholstered items (quite common) and various insects. By far the hardest possible exposure we have is to the hantavirus, a rare and serious respiratory virus transmitted by rats and mice. It was first found in the USA in 1993, and since then 600 cases have been reported.
Few rodents are infected, but it is impossible to tell without lab tests. So we now treat all possible items as potentially infected if we see any telltale signs of urine or feces, or if the pieces have been stored in uninhabited areas such as barns and attics and basements. This means we suit up in hazmet suites with full face respirators, double bag the items or isolate them in a separate room, and leave them at normal temperature, preferable with sunlight exposure for part of the day, for several weeks.
“Humans are most at risk if they inhale infective saliva or excreta, such as dried airborne particles or contaminated dust. Besides inhalation, less common routes of transmission include direct inoculation into broken skin or eyes, bites, ingestion of contaminated food or water, and touching something that is contaminated by mice or rats and then touching the nose or mouth. Fleas and ticks are not known to have a role in hantavirus transmission. Cats, dogs,squirrels and chipmunks are not known to carry the virus. Humans cannot transmit the strains of hantavirus found in the U.S. to each other.” NPS Conservogram on Hantavirus.
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