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Michigan confirms its 1st human case of hantavirus
Exposure to rodent waste spreads illness
Health officials confirmed Michigan’s first human case of the Sin Nombre hantavirus Monday.
The woman was likely infected while cleaning a residential dwelling that had been unoccupied for about two years, according to Susan RinglerCerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County health department.
“We believe the individual was exposed when cleaning out the dwelling,” she said. “Fecal matter … from the infestation likely became airborne during cleaning and was inhaled by the individual.”
The woman was hospitalized and treated for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, the disease caused by the virus, but she is recovering and no longer in the hospital, Ringler-Cerniglia.
Officials say infection is rare, but still urge others to contact their local health department if they need to report a case.
Here’s everything to know about the Sin Nombre hantavirus.
What is the Sin Nombre hantavirus?
Hantaviruses are a family of virus that spread through rodents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hantaviruses can be spread to people through aerosolized virus that rodents shed in their urine, feces and saliva. The virus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease.
Each hantavirus is spread through a specific rodent. The Sin Nombre virus is spread through the deer mouse.
Scientists made this discovery while studying the origins of a 1993 hantavirus outbreak in an area shared between Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah known as the “Four Corners.” Researchers also concluded it was unlikely the virus could transmit between humans.
Rare cases of another hantavirus – called the Andes virus – in Chile and Argentina have seen person-to-person transmission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
The Sin Nombre virus is the most common hantavirus in the country, said Dr. Tony Schountz, professor microbiology at Colorado State University.
“That’s the virus that we principally have out here in the West,” he said. “What makes the West so special is that it’s so dry and it facilitates the aerosolization of the virus.”
On Tuesday, Nevada reported its 14th case of hantavirus since 2005, but it’s unclear whether the disease was caused by the Sin Nombre virus.
From 1993 to 2017, there were only 728 confirmed hantavirus cases in the United States, with most being non-fatal, according to CDC data. Schountz estimates the Sin Nombre virus made up about 600 of them.
Experts see cases as early as February but tend to peak in the spring and summer, he said. Most cases have been identified in adults.
Symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
Early symptoms of HPS include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, especially in large muscle groups like thighs, hips, back and sometimes shoulders, according to the CDC. Half of patients experience headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Coughing and shortness of breath can occur later in the disease as the lungs fill with liquid, the agency says. Schountz said the heart can also be affected by HPS as it works overtime to increase blood pressure that drops from plasma leaking into tissue.
“It can be a long and arduous recovery from this infection because it can cause substantial damage to the body,” he said.
There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection.
Is the Sin Nombre hantavirus deadly?
Hantaviruses have a high mortality rate, with about 36% of people dying from HPS, the CDC reports. This is because people don’t normally catch the virus early to treat it, Schountz says.
“That’s key to get those patients immediately into the proper treatment regimen. If that happens the there’s a really good chance you’re going to survive,” he said. “The problem is that a lot of people wait until it’s too late and they show up to the emergency room with fluid already building up in their lungs.”
Health experts urge Americans to avoid infection by staying away from places where rodents leave droppings or to wear rubber gloves and a mask that covers your nose and face during exposure to mouse droppings.
“Deer mice are everywhere and you have to assume that some of them are infected wherever they are,” Schountz said. “You have to take the appropriate precautions when going into their habitat.”