Officials with the New Mexico Department of Health are reporting the first case of hantavirus of the year in a woman from Sandoval County. the 37-year-old woman is currently hospitalized with laboratory confirmed Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) and an environmental investigation will be conducted at the home of the patient to help reduce the risk to others.

Deer mouse/CDC
Deer mouse/CDC

“This case early in the year emphasizes that precautions against HPS need to be taken year round,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “I want all New Mexicans to make sure they follow our prevention guidelines to keep themselves and their families safe.”

Hantavirus is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva. People can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus. The deer mouse is the main reservoir for Sin Nombre virus, the Hantavirus strain found in New Mexico.

“Mice are attracted to the food, water, and warmth inside of homes during the cold weather and can enter homes through cracks and holes as small as the size of a dime,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the department’s public health veterinarian. “Disturbing areas of rodent infestation, including nests and droppings, can cause the virus to be stirred up into the air where the particles can be breathed in. To be safe, wet down droppings with a disinfectant and wait 10 minutes before cleaning them up.”

The Department of Health urges health-care workers and the general public to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of Hantavirus. Early symptoms of Hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and cough which progresses to respiratory distress. These symptoms develop within one to six weeks after rodent exposure. Although there is no specific treatment for HPS, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early.

In 2015, New Mexico had one case of HPS in a 53-year-old woman from Taos County who survived. In 2014 New Mexico identified six HPS cases with 3 fatalities.

Since it was first discovered in 1993, New Mexico has reported a total of 102 lab-confirmed HPS cases with 42 deaths, the highest number of cases for any state in the nation. Nationally, since 1993, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a total of 690 cases in 35 states.