Having a Little Fun with the Sin Nombre Columnist

by Calendar Hacksaw

For the past 18 months or a year and a half, Iíve been thinking a lot about hantavirus pulmonary syndrome; the Sin Nombreóor "no name"óvirus, as they began calling it down in the Four Corners region of New Mexico when the last big outbreak occurred back in í92-93. Itís one mean devil of a virus, usually killing 50% or more of those becoming infected. I know many of you loyal readers are equally aware of this threat to our well-being, and I thought that as a public service I should share some of the information Iíve gathered, not to mention some of the half-baked notions Iíve formed.

But first, this disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, though I did fail CPR class once. I have not had a science class since about 7th grade, and achieved the same success there as I achieved in CPR. Most of the factual information in this column was harvested from various Internet websites, includingóbut not limited toóthe Center for Disease Control, the Discovery Channel, and a variety of Western and Southwestern U.S. newspapers. I would hope that the Fence Post would serve as a forum for the exchange of information that could benefit us all somewhere down the road. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and based on what Iíve read I highly recommend prevention, especially since there ainít no real "cure" just yet.

Hantavirus, for the uninitiated, is a respiratory disease occurring most often in rural areas, spread by deer mice (better known as Peromyscus Maniculatus), and is contracted by humans who breathe infected urine, saliva or droppings from these critters. You can also become infected if the sucker bites you. The primary symptoms are difficulty breathing, usually within two weeks of infection, followed by difficulty living. The rest of the symptoms resemble the flu, so if you think youíve been exposed itís a good idea to hitchhike to town as soon as possible. The virus can be identified via a "simple test." Yeah, thatís what they say about prostrate screening, too.

Itís important to remember that there are all kinds of viruses out there; we encounter them every year in one form or another. Some we try to prevent, such as by having a flu shot in the fall, and others we just try to avoid outright. Your attitude toward hantavirus should be no different, just more vigilant.

The Center for Disease Control and others concerned with infectious disease recommend that we not disturb rodents, burrows or dens, avoid sleeping near woodpiles, garbage areas, or on bare ground. Well, as they say in Twin Oaks, "There goes the weekend!"

The truth is, given where we live, how we live and whom we choose to shack with, we encounter rodent urine, feces and saliva on a daily basis, and not just during presidential campaigns. But itís where we have the potential to contact it that counts, plus what we can do to minimize risk and exposure. So thatís what Iíll be focusing on this month, as soon as we get all this preliminary crap out of the way and get to the good stuff. I always said Iíd be a darn good science writer if someone would just give me the chance and a whole lotta money.

I must admit, my biggest hantavirus threat has been my trailer. Somehow, mice have been getting in there for years, and I just ran Ďem out each time I came up for the weekend slumber party. Judging by the evidence, the mice held a Hellís Angels-style party every time I was gone. Thereíd be feces and dry urine and empty beer bottles everywhere: on the countertops, the beds, the table, the floor, and in the sink. But I became accustomed to living and sleeping with it anyway, despite the threat, and suffered no ill effects because I was lucky and stupid and my mice didnít fool around with their flatlander cousins.

That was long ago, though, and the threat is now. Failing in my efforts to date to locate and plug up whatever opening the mice are using for access and egress, I have turned to prevention. I have decided to kill the mice before they kill me, and I donít even know if the danged things are deer mice or not. We are not supposed to cohabitate with mice, regardless of the circumstances or fetish.

Toward that end, I have embraced the following routine:

Upon arrival at the Twisted Sisters Ranch, I open the trailer door, but leave the screen door closed, and allow it to air out for about 30 minutes or three beers.

I have purchased a good Hudson-style garden sprayer, which I fill with one gallon of fresh spring water mixed with about 16 oz. of household bleach, creating a 10 to 15% bleach solution.

Armed with this potent anti-hantavirus weapon, set on "dreadfully heavy mist," I enter the trailer spraying a heavy protective cloud ahead of me as I progress past the closet and bathroom, through the kitchen and dining area, and on through the bedroom, drenching everything as I go, high and low, left and right, to and fro.

Once done, I retreat and drink some more beer while I wait for the bleach to do its work and dry. An hour later, I consider it safe to enter and open the windows.

But thatís not all, folks. Iím also kicking their butts before they ever have a chance to get inside. Home Depot sells a great 20-pack of commercial mouse poison for a little over $5, and Iíve been planting six packets of the stuff under my cabin each time I visit. Whereas seeing scurrying mice used to be a common recreational activity, especially at night, now they are no where to be found. Out of sight, but never out of mind. The forest has a way of regenerating rodents at lightning speed, much faster than I can spend $5 bills. But the effort has bought me significant peace of mind, and thatís what counts.

As a side benefit of all this activity, Iíve had window placards printed which read: "WARNING: POSSIBLY CONTAMINATED BY HANTAVIRUS" and this has cut down on the burglary, vandalism and trespassing problem.

All things considered, hantavirus has done a great deal for me this year, and Iím looking forward to getting as much mileage out of it as possible. After all, prevention or a cure could be just around the corner.

Calendar Hacksaw hangs his hat at http://www.calendarhacksaw.com. Hantavirus, like political promises, dies quickly when exposed to sunlight. But hantavirus kills far fewer people and is easier to control.

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