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On Friday, the New York State Department of Health announced that it is investigating a suspected case of hantavirus in Nassau County.

Preliminary findings received on June 20 suggest that a Belmont Park backstretch employee may have died from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome following exposure to rodent excretions in the backstretch area not open to the general public.

Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse) Image/CDC
Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse)

The employee, whose name is being withheld to protect privacy, was found unconscious on June 1 outside the housing unit in the Belmont backstretch where the patient lived and was transported to a hospital, and later died on June 6.

Clinical specimens have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing and confirmation.

Though hantavirus is rarely contracted by people, most cases are transmitted when people breathe in aerosolized rodent excretions in confined areas. Department of Health epidemiologists and environmental health inspectors, in conjunction with CDC, are inspecting residences and conducting interviews with backstretch workers. DOH teams have found no additional suspected cases during this preliminary review.

Out of an abundance of caution, New York Racing Association (NYRA), has immediately relocated employees while remediation takes place. Additionally, NYRA has agreed to immediately overhaul its pest control management practices including more rigorous building maintenance to limit routes of entry, an improved strategy for waste management, better overall monitoring, and improved rodent trapping and control practices. NYRA has extended on-site medical clinic hours, should the need arise. Multilingual informational materials about hantavirus are being distributed to all employees and multilingual teams from the New York State Department of Labor are on-site to assist workers as needed.

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Since tracking for this infection began in New York State in 1993, there have only been five sporadic cases. From 1993 through January 2017, CDC has received reports of 728 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the United States. The majority of these occurred or had exposure in the western United States.