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Michigan confirms first human hantavirus case in hospitalized Washtenaw County woman


3D illustration of the hantavirus. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • 3D illustration of the hantavirus.

A Washtenaw County woman has been hospitalized with Michigan’s first confirmed human case of the Sin Nombre hantavirus, a rare and sometimes fatal respiratory disease transmitted by infected rodents.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that it’s investigating the infection.

The virus is transmitted by infected rodents, usually deer mice, through urine, feces, or saliva. People often contract it by inhaling rodent droppings and nesting materials.

It does not spread from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The highest risk of exposure is being inside rodent-infested structures without proper protection.

Health officials said the Washtenaw County woman was likely exposed to the virus while cleaning an unoccupied dwelling that was infested with rodents.

The virus causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), which was first discovered in humans in the southwest U.S. in 1993.

“HPS is caused by some strains of hantavirus and is a rare but severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease that can occur one to five weeks after a person has exposure to fresh urine, droppings or saliva from infected rodents,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, said in a statement. “Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantavirus is at risk for HPS and healthcare providers with a suspect case of hantavirus should contact their local health department to report the case and discuss options for confirmatory testing.”

Symptoms of HPS include fever, chills, body aches, headache, and gastro-intestinal signs such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The fatality rate is 40%.

“We can prevent and reduce the risk of hantavirus infection by taking precautions and being alert to the possibility of it,” Dr. Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with Washtenaw County Health Department, said. “Use rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves when cleaning areas with rodent infestations, ventilate areas for at least 30 minutes before working, and make sure to wet areas thoroughly with a disinfectant or chlorine solution before cleaning.”

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