King County has first two cases of hantavirus in 14 years; one death reported

In Washington state, hantavirus is associated with the deer mouse. (Photo: Public Health – Seattle & King County)

SEATTLE -- King County recently had its first two cases of hantavirus, which can cause a rare but deadly disease, in 14 years.

One of those who became ill, a man in his 30s who lived in Issaquah, died Feb. 24 after going to a hospital emergency room a day earlier, the local health department said.

The other person, a woman in her 50s from Redmond, was diagnosed in December and recovered.

In Washington, hantavirus is carried primarily by deer mice. People get sick by breathing in hantavirus. Health officials said that can happen when dust from dried rodent urine, saliva, and droppings that contain hantavirus are stirred up in the air. People can also get infected by touching rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials that contain the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s also possible to get sick from a rodent bite. The disease does not spread person-to-person.

Hantavirus is rare in Washington. The last case of someone who got the disease in King County was in 2003. That case and the recent ones are the only ones acquired in King County, health officials said.

“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.”

Health officials say these are some of the risks of getting hantavirus

Opening or cleaning previously unused buildings, cabins, sheds, barns, garages and storage facilities (including those which have been closed during the winter) is a potential risk for hantavirus infections, especially in rural settings.

Housecleaning activities in and around homes with rodent infestations.

Construction, utility and pest-control workers can be exposed when they work in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have a rodent population.

Campers and hikers can be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in other rodent habitats.

Health officials say many people who have contracted the disease did not see rodents or their droppings before getting sick.

So health officials say people who live where there are deer mice should take precautions.

You should keep the rodents out of your home and office by removing sources of food, water and shelter. If you have an infestation, take precautions to clean up the area safely.

This site will provide you advice on hantavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a hantavirus website.

And health officials provide this advice if you get sick:

"If you have been exposed to rodents or rodent infested buildings and have symptoms, see your doctor immediately and tell them about your possible rodent exposure. Symptoms begin one to eight week after inhaling the virus. It typically starts with three to five days of illness that is similar to the flu, including fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. As the disease gets worse, it causes coughing and shortness of breath. People with hantavirus are usually hospitalized, and about one out of three people diagnosed with HPS have died."

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