LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Washtenaw County Health Department are investigating the first confirmed human case of Sin Nombre hantavirus detected in the state.
A woman in Washtenaw County was recently hospitalized with a serious pulmonary disease from the virus, according to a news release Monday.
Health officials say she was likely exposed when cleaning an unoccupied dwelling that contained signs of an active rodent infestation.
Hantavirus was first discovered to be responsible for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in ill patients in the southwest United States in 1993. It has since infected people throughout the U.S. and the Americas.
Hantavirus infections are associated with domestic, occupational or recreational activities that bring humans into contact with infected rodents.
Most cases have been found in adults and tend to occur in the spring and summer.
“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,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantavirus is at risk for HPS and health care providers with a suspect case of hantavirus should contact their local health department to report the case and discuss options for confirmatory testing.”
Human become infected when freshly dried materials contaminated by rodent excreta are disturbed and inhaled, get into breaks in the skin or on mucous membranes or when ingesting contaminated food or water.
Bites from rodents can also transmit the disease.
The highest risk of exposure happens when entering or cleaning rodent-infested structures.
There aren’t any documented person-to-person cases of hantavirus transmission in the U.S.
Symptoms can be non-specific at first and include fever, chills, body aches, headache and gastrointestinal signs like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
The illness can progress to include coughing and shortness of breath.
HPS has a 40% fatality rate.
“We can prevent and reduce the risk of hantavirus infection by taking precautions and being alert to the possibility of it,” said Dr. Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with the Washtenaw County Health Department. “Use rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves when cleaning areas with rodent infestations, ventilate area for at least 30 minutes before working and make sure to wet areas thoroughly with a disinfectant or chlorine solution before cleaning.”
The Sin Nombre hantavirus is spread by the deer mouse and white footed mouse.
Depending on environmental conditions, hantaviruses “probably” survive less than one week in indoor environments and just hours when exposed to sunlight outdoors.