Virginia mans dies from Hantavirus disease

The Virginia Department of Health announced last week that a man from the New River Health District in Southwest Virginia has died from Hantavirus disease.

The man died last week after being hospitalized for pneumonia. Laboratory tests were conducted at the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VDH received confirmation of Hantavirus from CDC Wednesday afternoon. Only one other case of Hantavirus disease has been reported in Virginia. That case occurred in 1993.

“Our sympathy goes out to this man’s family and colleagues at such a difficult time,” said State Health Commissioner, Robert B. Stroube, M.D., M.P.H. “This is a very rare and unexpected event.”

The man was a Virginia Tech student and had recently been conducting field studies of small mammals in West Virginia. Health officials believe that he was most likely exposed to the virus through contact with the urine, feces or saliva of these animals. Hantavirus disease is not transmitted from person to person and there does not appear to be an ongoing risk to public health.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) disease is a rare but extremely serious illness of the lungs caused by a family of viruses known as Hantavirus. Persons who have exposure to wild rodents or rodent-infested areas are at highest risk of getting HPS. The virus, which is found in the animal's urine, droppings and saliva, gets in the air as mist or dust when droppings or nests are stirred up and can be spread to humans who inhale the virus.

Hantavirus can also be transmitted by handling rodents or by touching your nose or mouth after handling contaminated materials. A rodent's bite can also spread the virus. There is no evidence that cats, dogs, farm animals, or insects transmit the disease to humans. You cannot get HPS from another person.

The initial symptoms are fever (101-104F), fatigue, and muscle aches. Other common symptoms that may occur are headache, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Later symptoms of HPS are coughing and shortness of breath caused by fluid build-up in the lungs. These breathing problems start 4-10 days after the first symptoms and can progress to respiratory failure and sometimes death. At the present time, there is no specific treatment for HPS.

“Cases of Hantavirus disease are rare, but people should always take precautions when coming in contact with rodents,” stressed Stroube.

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