Photograph Mice/Rats & die?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by dan_smith, Dec 16, 1997.

  1. Living in an area of the USA inhabited by packrats and various types of desert mice presents some unique photo opportunities. Lately it has also started to present some dangers. Hantavirus, the deadly virus that virtually eats one alive, is a real threat to those who go poking around in rat/deer mice droppings, middens and their runs. I enjoy photographing these little creatures but after having a friend test some of the stuff that I was kneeling in at one setup and having the test come back positive for hantavirus, I am leery. Anyone else run into this problem? I don't really like trying to be creative in the desert at night wearing a breathing mask and/or protective suit.
     
  2. Hmmm...I thought Ebola was the disease that ate you alive, hantavirus can kill though.

    <p>

    I sure can't help you, though. I would note that there's not been a repeat epidemic episode after the well-publicized one in the Four Corners area. The Navajo effected hadn't changed their habits nor had the mice. So apparently a combination of events occurred that led to the outbreak.

    <p>

    This would be a good time for you to learn to use Yahoo! well, to find out what the Center for Disease Control or whatever the name is can tell you. They may have stuff up on the web.
     
  3. I think it's one of the Streptococcus variants that is named the 'Flesh eating disease'. In either case, these seem to be very rare and difficult to contract despite the fact that both the Hantavirus and the streptococcus bacteria are both very common. I'm not an expert in communicable disease, but I have read that current research into both these infections demonstrates that there are other factors, beyond exposure, involved in the successful incubation of either of these beasts.

    <p>

    Dan, I don't know about you, but I will go about my photography as always. I hope I'm missed here if I succum to one of these, or a bear attack (which is probably more likely). In the mean time, I'm not convinced that either is enough of a threat to stop me from doing what, for me, makes life liveable.
     
  4. You are more likely to succumb to skunk spray, rattlesnake injection or fighter-jet attack than anything you'll pick up rolling around in mouse poop. I don't know much about hantavirus, but I grew up in the Texas Hill Country and never contracted anything despite stepping in many cow pies when I was a kid. From what I have read the virus is spread more easily in enclosed places such as old textile mills than it is out in the open country.
     
  5. Hantavirus is a worldwide problem and its occurrence is still fairly rare. Another disease persisting in the southwestern USA is plague but I think that to contract either of the diseases you will have to spend a long time (day and night for several weeks) in the area to expose yourself sufficiently. I have never heard of a nature photographer to fall victim to those diseases by exercising his favourite activity. As it has been said before, you are more likely to be bitten be a rattlesnake or stung by a scorpion than to succumb to one of those diseases. For more detailed information, the CDC has an excellent website at http://www.cdc.gov . It is very scientific, though.

    <p>

    Hope this helps a bit, Hans H. Siegrist (MD)
     
  6. About three years ago I was sitting on a curb in Ignacio, Colorado, talking with a Ute Indian boy in front of a school building that the tribal council had hired me to photogrph. He warned me not to go into the building in no uncertain terms. When I asked why, he whispered, "Hantavirus." It seems that hantavirus has become the new boogeyman of the Four Corners region. Despite his warning, I did go into the building, and I didn't contract hantavirus.

    <p>

    But a friend of mine died from histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease caused by inhaling fungal spores found in bird excrement. He had contracted the disease by inspecting and photographing historic buildings. I think about him from time to time as I muck around in pigeon and bat droppings, photographing interiors of abandoned buildings. Last year I shot a particularly nasty abandoned industrial complex that was also a wildlife refuge. Not only did I have to think about animal-borne disease agents, but also residues of cyanide, napalm, wheat rust, incendiaries, mustard gas, anthrax and Sarin nerve gas. I had an escort at all times just to see that I didn't die. Before the shoot, I practiced in various types of hazmat gear, including a full moon suit with self-contained breathing air. (For a good time, try operating a 4x5 camera wearing two masks, two layers of heavy gloves and about 40-pounds of life-support gear sometime.) Ultimately, I opted to go in unprotected, trusting in karma, because the gear was too constrictive. Again, I didn't suffer (much) from the shoot.

    <p>

    The point in relating all of this is this: Sometimes we worry too much about things that are either too obscure or beyond our control. (And coming from someone who has braved tarantulas, sidewinders, LDS Temple guards, et al., Dan, you have experienced probably most of the hazards of photography at one time or other.) There is an outside chance that in kneeling in mice droppings you are exposing yourself to hantavirus, but with a few precautions (keep your hands and face out of it, don't kick up too much dust, etc.) the risk is negligible. You stand a greater chance, statistically, in being struck by lightning. Stop worrying about the boogeymen.
     
  7. Um... I have a slightly different take on all this. Statistics can often be misleading. While it's certainly true that the average Joe has a greater chance of being struck by lighning than contracting hantavirus, I'm fairly certain the numbers look quite different if Joe is kneeling in mouse droppings which have tested positive for hantavirus.
    Hantavirus is a devastating illness, and ironic in the sense that the strongest, healthiest people typically die, while the weak (particularly the elderly) can sometimes (usually?) survive it. This is because the immune system overreacts to the infection, filling the lungs with fluid. Those with weakened immune systems can't mount this kind of gigantic defense, and subsequently beat the virus without the devastating symptoms that kill others.
    In any case, Dan, if I were you, I'd be careful about where I kneel. I'm not suggesting you give up photographing in these areas, but following Clay's advice to avoid kicking up dust and touching your face, etc.. is a good idea. I would probably be even more careful than this, but then again I'm not someone who'd take a picture of a rattlesnake from a couple feet away.
     
  8. Dan, I suggest consulting with your trusted physician. Getting medical advice from photographers makes as much sens as getting photographic advice from my doctor buddy who exclusively uses disposable cameras with attached flash.
     
  9. You guys should watch your butts, at least to a degree. Here in Montana, approximately 15% of the little critters trapped in the wild test positive for hanta. This is work being carried out by a couple of virologists at Montana State University who are trying to sort out how serious the threat really is to the average bloke on the street. The problem being, of course, that you are not the average bloke on the street (I'm sure you will agree). If you are into macro terd work in a major way, be careful out there!
     
  10. I remember seeing a program on The Learning Channel about, among other viral diseases, hantavirus. A woman was interviewed who contracted hantavirus after vacuuming the decomposed remains of a mouse. I got the impression that one does not require prolonged exposure to contract the disease.

    <p>

    I also remember that the symptoms of the disease involve the lungs filling with fluid until the patient cannot absorb oxygen. Or, to put it bluntly, you drown. This seems to put it in a different league from Ebola, which is a hemorraghic fever. However, I'm not a virologist, so I don't know that for a fact.
     

Share This Page

1111