Hanta virus was first noticed in the “Four Corners” area of the USA, which includes the intersections of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The first recognized outbreak was in 1993. The virus is spread via rodents such as mice and shed in their urine and feces. When people come into contact with the infected urine and feces, they are at risk for acquiring the disease. The disease is not known to be spread between humans. The CDC reports that hanta virus has been confirmed in the rodent urine of animals from 20 national parks, in the western USA.
Hikers who sleep on the ground or in older “ghost-town” buildings are especially at risk. People who are cleaning their houses or garages are also considered to be at risk for exposure to the rodent droppings. Of more than 100 reported cases, only two have been from hikers, the rest were from people cleaning their homes or vacation property. As the weather in the region becomes colder, mice look to get warm and enter people’s houses. Use of rubber gloves, bleach and ensuring adequate ventilation when cleaning are methods encouraged to prevent infection. Spray dead rodents with disinfectant prior to placing into a plastic bag and double bagging. Clothing can be washed in a wash machine and with regular detergent. This will also kill the virus due to the detergent breaking the outer lipid membrane of the virus.
Symptoms of Hanta virus are similiar to the flu and can develop within one to five weeks after exposure to infected rodent feces or urine. Fever, muscle aches and pains, headache, nausea/vomiting and diarrhea are common. There is no treatment for Hanta specifically, other than supportive care. There is evidence that professional medical care lowers the mortality of this disease.
Hanta Virus has a pulmonary form that classically comes on after the person initially appears to recover from the infection. So after a few days of a flu like illness, the person feels better only to have their lungs begin to fill with fluid, a few days later. Progression to respiratory failure can be quite rapid, occuring in hours.
There have been 76 cases and 31 deaths reported in New Mexico, since 1993. San Miguel and Taos County have both had cases reported this year with the Taos case causing a fatality. Of the eight cases reported in 2006, three were fatal.