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State Reports Third Hantavirus Death in 6 Days

July 18, 2007

By Margie Wood, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

Jul. 18–Another death from hantavirus, which occurred in Park County, was reported Tuesday by the state health department. Spokesman Mark Salley said it was the third death from the virus in the state in six days.

Investigation continues into the death of a Custer County resident who succumbed to hantavirus, and a public meeting to answer questions is scheduled at 7 p.m. July 26 at the Westcliffe bowling alley.

Few details about the Custer County victim have been released, but John Pape, epidemiologist at the state department, said Tuesday that his staff has been working with the public health nurse’s office in the county, “looking at all the locations where this person had been working” before he fell ill and died early last week.

“We are investigating all possible sources (of the virus) in the county,” Donna McDonnall of the Custer County public health nurse’s office said Monday. “We can’t give any identifying information because of privacy laws.”

Pape added that the incubation period for hantavirus can be one to six weeks, which adds to the difficulty of tracing where the victim may have become infected. On average, the incubation period is two to three weeks, he said.

The Pueblo City-County Health Department and state health department are assisting in the investigation of the Custer County case as well as another case that occurred in Costilla County.

Vivian Gallegos, the Costilla County public health nurse, said the case in her county involved a female who died July 8, but she also said privacy laws prevented her from divulging any other information.

In early May, a 28-year-old Alamosa County woman died of hantavirus. Salley said two nonfatal hantavirus cases also have been reported in the state, one of them from Park County.

Hantavirus commonly is spread by deer mice, a brown mouse with white underside and large, round ears that usually lives in rural areas. The infection strikes if people come in contact with mouse droppings or urine, often when they are cleaning buildings or sheds that have been closed for the winter.

Early symptoms of hantavirus include fever, chills, headache and severe muscle pains, and sometimes abdominal pain and nausea. From one to five days after the initial symptoms, fluid builds up in the lungs, causing a dry cough and difficulty breathing.

Health officials recommend using special care when cleaning or working in rodent-infested spaces by opening doors and windows to air out the area an hour before starting work. The area should be wet down with a solution of one cup of bleach to a gallon of water before sweeping or vacuuming, if mouse droppings are observed.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

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