The New Mexico Department of Health announced Thursday a 28-year-old man from McKinley County has died of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). A 49-year-old man from Otero County is still hospitalized with HPS but is improving. Including these recent cases, New Mexico this year has had a total of six HPS cases. Three of them resulting in death.

Deer mouse Image/CDC
Deer mouse

“Each year our state has a few cases of Hantavirus,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary, Retta Ward, MPH. “While cases are rare, they often have tragic consequences. There are important steps people can take to lower the risk of contracting this dangerous illness.”

“People are usually exposed to Hantavirus around their homes, especially when they clean out enclosed areas that have lots of mouse droppings,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department of Health’s public health veterinarian. “With the cold weather, mice may try to enter buildings for food and shelter, so it is important to seal up homes and other structures that are used by people. Mice can squeeze through holes the size of a dime.”

Hantavirus is carried by certain species of rats and mice that shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus can be transmitted to people when nesting materials or dust contaminated by infected rat or mouse urine, droppings and saliva are stirred up, allowing the virus to be breathed in by humans. The illness is rare, but HPS cases are frequently associated with spring cleaning.

Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fatigue, fever and muscle aches. These symptoms may be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Later symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath. If hantavirus is suspected, people should contact their health care provider immediately and inform the practitioner of exposure to rodents, their waste, or their nesting material.

The other 4 of the 6 cases of HPS in New Mexico in 2014 include a fatal case in a 67-year-old woman from San Juan County, a 32-year-old woman from San Juan County who recovered, a fatal case in a 59-year-old man from McKinley County, and a 50-year-old man from San Juan County who recovered.

Since it was first discovered in 1993, New Mexico has reported a total of 100 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 639 cases with a fatality rate of 36 percent.

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