A second Issaquah resident has likely fallen ill with Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Public Health – Seattle and King County reported on Tuesday.
Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health – Seattle and King County said at a press briefing that the county “strongly suspects” a woman from the Squak Mountain area to have HPS. The woman, who is in her 50s, is currently hospitalized with symptoms that match the disease, which is caused by exposure to hantavirus.
If confirmed, this would be the second case of HPS in Issaquah in six weeks and the third case of hantavirus in King County in five months. Duchin said test results were expected on Thursday.
An Issaquah man in his 30s died of HPS in late February, just one day after going to the emergency room. He also lived in the Squak Mountain area, though on the other side of the mountain from the hospitalized woman.
A woman in Redmond was diagnosed with HPS in November. She has since recovered from the disease.
In Washington state, the deer mouse is the primary carrier of hantavirus. Deer mice tend to live in wooded areas, avoiding urban settings. Duchin warned that wooded areas of the county may be at a higher risk for the disease.
Duchin called Issaquah a possible “mini hot spot” for hantavirus.
“This is a rare disease in general, and to have two cases — and again the second one is not yet confirmed, but we highly suspect it — two cases in Issaquah around Squak Mountain and one case in Redmond, which isn’t that far away, suggests to us that there is something in the general vicinity,” Duchin said.
The county does not believe that the individual cases are linked to one another.
The only other time that hantavirus was reported and contracted locally in the county was in 2003. Health professionals do not know what may have caused the recent spike in hantavirus cases.
“We are not exactly sure what might be responsible for this cluster of cases,” Duchin said. He speculated that the high amount of rainfall might have provided more food sources for mice and may have caused deer mice to seek shelter in places such as houses, garages, sheds and vehicles, where humans could come into contact with them.
HPS is not spread from human to human. People contract hantavirus by breathing in dust that has been stirred up from rodent droppings or nesting materials, which can happen through ordinary activities such as cleaning houses, garages and cabins. It is also possible to acquire the virus from touching rodent droppings, urine, saliva or nesting materials and then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth, or from being bitten by a deer mouse.
The first symptoms, which become apparent after one to eight weeks of exposure to hantavirus, resemble a flu virus. For three to five days, a person may experience fever, chills, head and body aches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Later on, however, more serious symptoms develop, such as a cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing altogether. This is where the disease becomes especially dangerous and in some cases fatal. One-third of those with HPS die of the disease.
“It’s very serious,” Duchin told the Reporter in late March. “It causes the lungs and the blood vessels in the lungs to become leaky and the blood pressure to drop.”
The best way to prevent HPS from reaching this dangerous stage is to contact a health professional right away if you develop any HPS symptoms and were exposed to rodents or live in a wooded area. It is especially important to tell the health care specialist that you might have been exposed to deer mice.
“If you have the early symptoms … and you live in an area where deer mice are common or you know you’ve been exposed to rodent nests, I would seek medical care right away,” Duchin said. “The earlier the better.”
Unlike other illnesses such as the flu, hantavirus does not appear to be more dangerous or more common for the elderly or people with prior health conditions. Duchin said that people who contract HPS tend to be healthy young adults; this may be because these are the people who are typically performing the activities that put one at risk of exposure to rodent materials.
People risk exposure to hantavirus when cleaning houses or garages that may be infested with rodents; opening buildings that had previously been closed, such as summer cabins; using a cabin or shelter when camping or hiking; and working in construction, utility and pest control.
For a full list of precautions to take against hantavirus, visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/communicable-diseases/disease-control/~/media/depts/health/communicable-diseases/documents/hantavirus-info-sheet.ashx.
“The message for the public is that hantavirus is really something that is present in Washington state all the time,” Duchin said. “And sometimes, although it’s a rare disease, it may increase. And when it does, we want to get that message out so the people just remember to take those precautions.”