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Health Dept. confirms hantavirus death in Utah County

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PROVO, Utah — A Utah County woman has died of a hantavirus infection, the Utah County Health Department announced Tuesday.

Steven Mickelsen is the Director of Nurses for Utah County.  He shared the painful story about a woman who was cleaning out rodent droppings from her home. Within a week, she started to feel flu-like symptoms.

“Since we have a lot of other flu-like illnesses going around it was kind of a tricky diagnosis to get down to,” said Mickelsen.  “We have a mom that's leaving behind a little family and a husband. Our heart goes out to the family.”

The woman passed away a month ago.  According to the Medical Examiner, she died from a Hantavirus infection.  She’s the second person in Utah to succumb to the virus this year.

Health leaders are not releasing the woman's name, but said she was between the ages of 18-44.

Hantavirus is transmitted by infected rodents through fresh urine, droppings or saliva. The virus is most commonly spread to humans by breathing air contaminated with the virus.  It can also be transmitted if an infected rodent bites a person, or by eating food contaminated with urine, droppings or saliva from an infected rodent.

According to the news release, early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups. Headaches, dizziness, chills and abdominal problems may also be present.  Four to ten days after the first phase of illness, a sick person will experience coughing and shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid.

The virus is fatal in over 1/3 of the cases reported, but doesn't cause lasting effects or complications for people who fully recover from a hantavirus infection.

The Utah County Health Department offered the following tips for preventing hantavirus exposure:

To prevent hantavirus “Seal Up, Trap Up and Clean Up” by following these important steps:

  • Air out closed-up buildings before entering
  • Trap mice until they are all gone
  • Clean up nests and droppings using a disinfectant
  • Don’t sweep up rodent droppings into the air where they can be inhaled
  • Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home
  • Get rid of trash and junk piles
  • Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where mice can get to it

If you do notice a rodent problem and want to prevent infestations, there are several steps you can take:

  • Seal holes inside and outside the home
  • Trap rodents around the home
  • Clean up rodent food sources and nesting sites by tightly storing all food, pet food, trash, and animal feed
  • Get rid of possible nesting sites outside the home by moving woodpiles far from the house, keeping grass and shrubbery well-trimmed.
  • Elevate hay and trash at least 1 foot off the ground

To properly clean up after rodents, trap all live rodents and seal entryways. After 1 week of trapping, if no additional rodents are captured, enough time has passed that the urine/droppings or nesting material is no longer infectious. When cleaning:

  • Wear gloves to clean urine/droppings and soak the droppings with bleach before picking up with paper towel
  • Clean and disinfect the whole area
  • For heavy infestations, use gloves, goggles, protective clothing, and a respirator

For more information, go to: http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/hantavirus/