Experts Advise Cautious Spring Cleaning After Oklahoma Hantavirus Death

A man from Texas County, Okla. died from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome last week. This is the first death from HPS in the state since 2001 and only the third Oklahoma case since the disease was identified in 1993.

Hantaviruses are carried by rodents. In Oklahoma, the deer mouse is the most likely carrier of hantavirus. The virus is shed in the urine, feces and saliva of rodents, and people can become infected through contact with contaminated surfaces. Transmission most commonly occurs when people breathe air containing infected particles of excrement. Certain types of hantavirus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), which the CDC calls “rare but deadly.” Symptoms of HPS include fever, fatigue and shortness of breath. There is no specific treatment for HPS, and 36 percent of people infected in the United States have died. Patients who get care earlier are more likely to survive.

Officials have no released any information about the man or how he may have come in contact with hantavirus. However, in an April 23 press release from the state health department, officials cautioned people to be vigilant when spring-cleaning, particularly while cleaning out cabins and other areas where rodents might be living.

Last fall, there was an outbreak of hantavirus in the popular tourist site, Yosemite National Park. Officials suspect that rodents carrying hantavirus had been living in the “Signature Tent Cabins” in Yosemite’s Curry Village. After the outbreak was discovered, vacationers were moved to other lodgings and the cabins were disinfected. The last update from the CDC and the National Park Service reported ten cases of hantavirus, including three deaths and nine cases of HPS.  

The Oklahoma Department of Health recommends ventilating any enclosed areas for thirty minutes before cleaning. Using rubber gloves, treat the area with a disinfectant like bleach and remove any rodent nests or droppings. Be sure to wash hands with soap and water when finished.

HPS was first identified in May 1993 in the Four Corners region of the Southwest when a young, healthy Navajo man died very quickly of respiratory symptoms. For several months, experts could not identify the cause of his illness despite the fact that several people faced similar symptoms. In November of that year, scientists finally identified a particular hantavirus as the cause of HPS and named this virus the Sin Nombre virus.

Since that case in 1993, officials have confirmed 617 cases of HPS in the United States. Over half of all cases have been located outside the original Four Corners region. A map of HPS cases can be found here.

Experts have also discovered several cases of HPS that occurred before 1993 but were not identified until recently. The earliest confirmed case that is now believed to have been HPS was a man in Utah in 1959.

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