Mono Health advice on smoke, hantavirus, salmonella

– Press releases from Mono County Health Department

Those of you in Mono County from the communities of Walker and north have undoubtedly seen the smoke from the Washington Fire burning in Alpine County. Although most of the smoke is blowing over us and into Nevada, as the wind has died down during the night, smoke has settled into the valleys this morning. Keep in mind that this is a very fluid and ever changing situation, dependent on the fire, fuel, control efforts, and the wind. Our prayers are with the large numbers of dedicated personnel who are making tremendous efforts to protect all of us, our homes, and the environment.


Some communities in the Eastern Sierra have access to continuous particulate matter (PM) monitoring. These monitors provide an instant reading of particulate matter concentrations averaged over one hour. Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. It is these fine particles which are contained in wildfire smoke which make it so hazardous to our health.  Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

Unfortunately, there is no monitoring in the areas currently impacted by smoke. Areas without monitoring need other ways to estimate particle levels. The following index is useful in judging the levels near you on a continual basis.

Good (can see 11 miles or more) – No cautionary statements.

Moderate (can see 6-10 miles) – Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (can see 3-5 miles) – People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Unhealthy (can see 1½-3 miles) – People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Very Unhealthy (can see 1-1½ mile) – People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

Hazardous (can see 1 mile or less) – Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.

How to tell if smoke is affecting you

Smoke can cause—

  • Coughing
  • A scratchy throat
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Stinging eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Asthma exacerbations

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.

People who have heart disease might experience—

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:

  • Inability to breathe normally
  • Cough with or without mucus
  • Chest discomfort
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath

When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.

Know whether you are at risk

If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema, or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people.

Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.

Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

 What should you be doing:

  1. Stay indoors with windows and doors closed; run air-conditioner on “recirculate” setting. Keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. Minimize the use of swamp coolers. If it becomes too warm indoors, individuals may consider leaving the area to seek alternative shelter.
  2. Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
  3. Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease, Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen. If you evacuate, make sure you take all essential medications along with you.
  4. Do not rely on dust masks or N95 respirators for protection. If you wish to wear something, use a wet handkerchief or bandana to cover your mouth and nose. The key – keep it moist.
  5. When driving make sure to drive with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on “recirculate.” Also, buckle up – and do not drink and drive!
  6. Minimize or stop outdoor activities, especially exercise, during smoky conditions.
  7. People who must spend time outdoors should drink plenty of fluids.
  8. Additionally, pet owners should consider bringing their pets indoors out of the unhealthy air conditions, if possible. This is especially important for older pets.
  9. Stay tuned to local radio and TV for emergency announcements about air quality.
  10. Stay in touch with family and friends, especially if you live alone. Exercise your communications plan.

Power outages

Power outages can be more than an inconvenience. Click on the What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out page for more information about carbon monoxide poisoning, food safety, safe drinking water, power line hazards and more.

To keep up-to-date on the status of this fire, and for other resources, go to:


Note: This is a copy of the Mono-Gram sent out on April 22, 2015 regarding hantavirus. It is being resent in response to an unconfirmed rumor that is being circulated that there is “a nasty virus circulating that is killing people in town”. In response, at least one residence has been “tented” to eliminate this risk. I am going to presume – perhaps incorrectly – that the alleged culprit is the hantavirus.

First, there is no “nasty virus killing people in town” that I am aware of – hantavirus, or otherwise. We have not had a case of hantavirus this year in the Eastern Sierra, although there have been at least 3 deaths in Colorado so far. We also have not had any unexplained deaths due to a “nasty virus”.

Second, “tenting” as one would do for termites, is not an appropriate response to the threat from hantavirus. If you create a void by killing off mice, more will move in to fill the void.

Third, yes, we live in an area where we all are always at risk for exposure to the hantavirus. The drought is forcing all animals, including mice, into the human interface where we have chosen to live and visit, in their search for food for survival. So, don’t let down your guard. Do the right thing!

Pay attention, and do the appropriate things to protect yourself and your family, as outlined below.

Although mice carry the hantavirus all year, this is the start of the season when humans typically begin activities that put them at risk of being exposed to the hantavirus. Spring cleaning activities, such as opening up closed buildings that have been unused overwinter, often provide habitats for deer mice and become sites for human exposure to the hantavirus. Although hantavirus infections are relatively rare, it is not unusual for us to have several cases per year in the Eastern Sierra. The risk of death is significant. Individuals cleaning areas where the mice may be present are well advised to heed the recommendations below in order to avoid exposure.

Hantavirus is carried by certain species of rats and mice, and especially the deer mouse, pictured above. Infected rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. The virus can be transmitted to people when infected mouse urine, saliva, droppings, or nesting materials are stirred
up, temporarily aerosolizing the virus, which can be breathed in by humans.

We recommend the following precautions:

  • seal openings that may allow mice to enter homes and workplaces;
  • remove brush, woodpiles, trash, and other items that may attract mice;
  • tightly close garbage cans, pet food containers, and other food sources;
  • wear protective gloves to handle dead mice or to clean up nesting areas, urine, or droppings;
  • before cleaning up nests or droppings found inside, open windows and doors to ventilate the area for at least 30 minutes;
  • do not stir up nests by sweeping or vacuuming. Dampen areas before clean-up;
  • use a disinfectant or 1-to-10 bleach-water mixture to clean up dead rodents, nests, urine, and droppings.

Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches. These symptoms may be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Later symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath. If hantavirus is suspected, people should contact their health care provider immediately. Remember, infections with hantavirus may feel like the “flu”; however, it is no longer flu season!

For more information, including a map of surveillance activities, go to:…



In the last few weeks, we have had a number of reports of persons infected with the bacteria known as salmonella. Preliminary investigation points to several possible sources, including a cruise ship, food at a local graduation party, and/or backyard and pet animals.

Live animals

Salmonellosis is often what people think of when they think of chickens.  There are about 2500 different species of Salmonella and a few of them can be carried by chickens and can make people sick.  The type that usually makes the news (Salmonella enteritidis or SE) can be contracted from contact with fecal material, especially from baby chicks. Contact with live poultry can be a source of salmonellosis, even if a bird appears healthy and clean. You can get the infection from a bird, its droppings or from environments where birds have been. Proper and aggressive hand washing with soap is the key to protecting yourself from illness. Always wash your hands immediately after handling animals, cleaning up after them or being in an area where animals have been. Small animals such as chicks, ducklings, mice, baby turtles, iguanas, and pygmy hedgehogs are common vehicles for salmonellosis.

Who is most at risk

Persons who are particularly at risk for infection with salmonellosis include babies, children 5 years of age and under, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weaker immune systems.
Young children are at higher risk of infection because they often enjoy handling and interacting with live baby poultry and may not wash their hands before putting their fingers or other contaminated items in or near their mouths. If infected, young children are also at increased risk for serious illness because their immune systems are still developing.


Symptoms of Salmonella infection include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea which may be bloody. Most infected people recover within a week; however, some may develop complications that require hospitalization. Additional information concerning Salmonella can be found on the California Department of Public Health CDPH Web page.

What you should do – live animals

If you have been in contact with live poultry and develop symptoms of a salmonella infection that persist or are severe, you should consult a health professional and mention your exposure to live poultry.

When interacting with any live poultry, either in your own backyard or in public settings, there are things you can do to help protect your health and the health of your family:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or any items around where birds have been.
  • Adults should help children wash their hands.
  • If you can’t wash your hands right away, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash with soap and water.
  • Keep any live poultry away from your face. Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds.
  • Keep your hands away from your face while handling live poultry until you have washed your hands.
  • Children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weak immune systems shouldn’t handle or touch live poultry.
  • Keep live poultry and poultry equipment outside your home and away from places where people eat or make food.

Foodborne illness

Salmonella and other bacteria such as Campylobacter and E. Coli, can be found on raw poultry and poultry products, including eggs. Salmonella is also found in a great variety of food groups, including seeded vegetables such as tomatoes, fruits, beef, sprouts and pork.

There are precautions you can take to help protect you and your family from getting sick:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • Chill food promptly and properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90°F).
  • Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after handling eggs and raw poultry meat.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to prepare the next item.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked poultry meat and eggs. Poultry meat pieces, eggs and egg-based foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) to ensure they are safe to eat. Whole poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 82 degrees C (180 degrees F).
  • Use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs when preparing foods that aren’t heated (such as icing, eggnog or salad dressing).
  • Never place cooked or ready-to-eat food on an unwashed plate that held raw poultry meat or eggs.

Visit this CDPH link for more food safety tips, including proper cooking temperatures. The CDC also has helpful tips on what you can do to protect yourself and your family while handling food.

Consumers can also access the national Partnership for Food Safety Education’s “Fight BAC” (bacteria) Web page.







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