The number of mice isn’t so nice
Unusual numbers of mice infestations in Aspen and Snowmass homes this summer are keeping exterminators busy and health experts wary.Eric Duncan, owner of Mountain Pest Control, said he has “never, ever” seen so many mice “in the 30 years we’ve been in business.” He estimates his company did 10 times more mouse-extermination calls last month than in June 2003.”It’s just unbelievable,” he said. Other primary pest-control companies serving the Western Slope, Orkin Exterminating Co. and Terminix Pest Control, confirmed similar rodent populations. “It’s absolutely insane,” said Orkin office manager Sara Tregenza. “Mice, like crazy.” While Terminix service manager Greg Rohlman offered more conservative figures, estimating around three times more mice calls this summer, he said in five years working in the extermination business, this is “the worst I’ve seen.” Duncan recalled a visit to an elegant second home in Crested Butte where the owners came home to discover “every room in the house filled with mouse turds.” But he said the heaviest concentration of calls is coming from Snowmass and Aspen. The squeaking intruders threaten residents with more than the heebie-jeebies, though. State health officials warn of hantavirus, a disease humans can catch by inhaling dust contaminated by the feces, urine and saliva of infected deer mice. “I’m just worried about an outbreak,” Duncan said. “We can kill [mice] by the thousands and thousands, which we do,” but that doesn’t solve the poop problem. Hantavirus is rare but potentially dangerous, explained epidemiologist John Pape of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Two human cases of the disease have been reported in 2004 so far, one in Douglas County and one in the San Luis Valley. Typically four or five people are infected each year, he said. In Colorado, the disease has a 44 percent fatality rate in humans.Pape explained that the risk of acquiring hantavirus is most closely tied to the local deer mice population, which can vary greatly from house to house, even in the same area. Pay close attention to a jump in the number of scurrying feet you hear. He insists: “You need to take that serious.” Deer mice can be identified by their white undersides. There is a sharp delineation between brown and white fur, right down the tails; in house mice, the fade is more gradual. “If you see a bicolored tail, that’s a deer mouse,” Pape said, adding that mammalogists consider deer mice the most populous mammal in North America. Dale Nesbit, manager of Mountain Pest Control’s Glenwood Springs office, estimates 75 percent of the mice they exterminate are field mice and 25 percent are deer mice.The most proactive step residents can take is to “rodent-proof” their homes, Pape explained. Exterminating the mice is a later step, because “they can outbreed your trapping program,” he said. He also advised using special precautions, such as treating droppings with bleach before cleaning, if you suspect deer mice. This year’s infestation is probably due to natural causes, Pape said. Five or six years of drought, followed by a relatively wet spring and summer, created an abundant food supply and a resulting increase in rodents.While pest-control companies report more calls from high-altitude towns such as Aspen and Telluride, the epidemiologist said deer mice have been trapped from eastern Colorado up to 11,000 feet; they don’t prefer mountain towns. But rodent stories keep ringing into the exterminator’s offices. Joyce Derby, office assistant for Mountain Pest Control, said the Glenwood Springs office is exterminating at a breakneck pace. Derby told a story of one Roaring Fork woman who caught 35 mice on glue boards strategically placed in her home in just two days. Another Mountain Pest Control employee told Derby he watched hundreds of mice migrate across his yard, stirred up when he used heavy equipment to dig a well. “Who knows how many ran toward his house?” Derby said. But rather than slip into panic mode, Pape said residents should educate themselves. “People shouldn’t be worried,” he said. “They should be aware.”
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At the onset of a special legislative session designed to address the extraordinary and ever-worsening devastation wrought by COVID-19 in Colorado, many elected Republicans chose to go maskless Monday inside the Capitol.