Fourth case of hantavirus in Alberta raises concern

An outbreak of hantavirus in Alberta, Canada, is caucing concern and Health authorities there are asking for help from Health Canada to deal with the potentially fatal disease.

Health officials have confirmed a fourth case after one woman died last week and another adult and child from the same family in central Alberta became ill. A man from Hobbema, south of Edmonton, also has the infection.

Dr. Karen Grimsrud, deputy provincial health officer, says the latest case is not related to the first, and that makes it more of a worry. She says it has left them questioning whether there is something unusual going on as they cannot explain the cluster.

Hantavirus is a respiratory illness spread by infected deer mice through their droppings, their urine or their saliva, and is most common in spring, when people are outdoors or doing spring cleaning and breathing in air-borne particles.

The province has asked for Health Canada's assistance to determine whether there is a higher percentage of mice infected in the area, says Grimsrud, and notes that there is a higher than usual mouse population in Alberta this year.

People in the province are being warned to take care where there is a potential exposure to mouse droppings. Sweeping or vacuuming droppings is not a good idea because it may spread the disease, they need to be dampened down with disinfectant, then either mopped or wiped up with paper towels and disposed of in sealed double bags. Health officials also recommend wearing rubber gloves.

People who contract hantavirus suffer from flu-like symptoms, including fever and body aches, which progress to breathing problems.

Since 1989, there have been 31 cases of hantavirus in Alberta, and nine deaths. The woman who died May 8th is the first fatality since 2002.

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