New Cases of Hantavirus Reported in New Mexico--1 death

Infection Control TodayInfection Control Today, June 2023, (Vol. 27 No. 5)
Volume 27
Issue 5

One person has died of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome caused by Hantavirus in New Mexico. What is it, and what can be done to protect individuals from being exposed to Hantavirus?

A rodent.  (Adobe Stock, 137367129, by Bernd Wolter)

Does this rodent have Hantavirus?

(Adobe Stock, 137367129, by Bernd Wolter)

The New Mexico Department of Health issued a public health advisory for Hantavirus to raise awareness about the risks of exposure to the virus and new incidences of infection. Three people have been diagnosed with Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in the past 2 weeks. This brings the statewide total in New Mexico to 5 cases yearly, a concerning trend as HPS is a rare but serious disease that can be fatal if left untreated. None of the infections were transmitted from person to person as the types of Hantavirus that occur in the United States cannot spread from one person to another. Of the 5 individuals with confirmed cases, 1 died, and 4 required hospitalization due to severe symptoms. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, early symptoms of HPS look like influenza or a stomach bug with fatigue, fever, muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems. Later symptoms of HPS include coughing and shortness of breath. HPS can be fatal and has a mortality rate of 38%, according to the CDC.

Hantavirus primarily spreads through contact with infected rodents or their droppings, urine, or saliva. This can occur when handling live or dead rodents or cleaning up areas where rodents have been present, such as nests or burrows.

While infection can occur at any time of the year, springtime is associated with higher rates of Hantavirus infections because of increased rodent activity. Rodent activity increases in the spring and summer months when temperatures are warmer, and food sources are more abundant, which can lead to increased breeding and population growth among rodents.

Another way people become exposed to Hantavirus is by cleaning or demolishing rodent-infested structures, such as old buildings, barns, or sheds. When these materials are disturbed, such as by sweeping or vacuuming, they can release Hantavirus particles into the air. Inhaling these particles can lead to infection, particularly if the person is not wearing protective gear such as a mask.

It is important to note that not all rodents carry Hantavirus, and not all individuals exposed to it will develop symptoms or become ill. However, taking preventive measures to reduce the risk of exposure is essential, particularly in areas with high rodent populations or where Hantavirus has been known to be present. According to the CDC and their map of cumulative cases of HPS by state, most cases occur in the Four Corners of the United States. The Four Corners is a region of the southwestern United States where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all meet.

Preventive measures include sealing any cracks or holes in buildings, storing food in sealed containers, and properly disposing of trash or debris that may attract rodents. Suppose you suspect that your home or workplace may be infested with rodents. In that case, it is important to eliminate the infestation, such as by using traps or calling in a professional exterminator. If you need to clean up areas where rodents have been present, wear protective gear such as a mask, gloves, and goggles to reduce the risk of exposure to Hantavirus particles.

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