Officials with Public Health – Seattle & King County said Tuesday that they have seen two cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) since December, including one fatality.

Deer mouse/CDC
Deer mouse/CDC

Health officials describe the cases as follows:

The person who died was a man in his 30s who lived in Issaquah. He went to the emergency room on February 23rd, and died on February 24th. Tests that Public Health received on March 1st revealed he had hantavirus. The other person who was diagnosed with hantavirus lives in Redmond. She is a woman in her 50s and was diagnosed in December, 2016. She has recovered.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is a serious respiratory disease caused by an infection with a type of hantavirus. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, headaches, muscle aches, dizziness and chills followed by coughing and shortness of breath. Approximately one-third of people who have Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome die from the disease.

In Washington State hantavirus is carried primarily by deer mice.

King County, Washington has only reported three locally acquired hantavirus infections; the two recent ones and a case from 2003.

“While it’s a concern that there are two locally-acquired cases relatively closely together, at this point, we do not know whether this indicates a general increase in risk for our area,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Either way, these cases serve as an important reminder to be aware of the risk of hantavirus, know the symptoms of hantavirus, and how to clean up rodent infestations.”

Most people are infected by breathing in dust contaminated with rodent droppings, urine, saliva or nesting materials. Sweeping or vacuuming stirs up contaminated dust and can put people at risk for hantavirus. Rodent infestation in and around the home is considered the primary risk for hantavirus.

The best way to reduce the risk of contracting HPS is to prevent rodents from entering your home by sealing up any holes inside and outside of the house, setting traps and properly storing any food. People should be particularly careful when first opening up a seasonal cabin or trailer.

If evidence of a rodent infestation is found, health officials recommend the following easy steps to clean up safely:

  • Air out the area by opening nearby windows for at least 30 minutes.
  • Do not sweep or vacuum up any droppings, urine or nesting material. Instead spray the materials and surrounding area with a mix of 10 parts water and one part bleach. Let it soak for at least five minutes.
  • Wear rubber or latex gloves and clean up the materials using paper towels.
  • Mop or clean hard surfaces with a diluted bleach solution. Steam clean or shampoo any furniture or carpeting.  Wash bedding or clothing that may have been contaminated with laundry detergent and hot water.