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New Mexico reports fourth Hantavirus death

A deer mouse, the main carrier of Sin Nombre virus, the Hantavirus strain found in New Mexico. The viral infection is transmitted through the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. (Courtesy of the the National Park Service)

A deer mouse, the main carrier of Sin Nombre virus, the Hantavirus strain found in New Mexico. The viral infection is transmitted through the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. (Courtesy of the the National Park Service)

Health officials have reported a fourth New Mexico death from Hantavirus this year, making 2016 among the deadliest since the viral illness first appeared here in 1993.

A 20-year-old Torrance County woman has died of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome – the state’s sixth reported case this year, the New Mexico Department of Health announced Thursday.

“The messaging is, (Hantavirus) is still here and you still have to take precautions,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the department’s public health veterinarian.

Hantavirus infection is transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva. People can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus.

The deer mouse is the main carrier for Sin Nombre virus, the Hantavirus strain found in New Mexico. Deer mice are found throughout the state, and people should take steps to keep them out of inhabited structures, Ettestad said.

Early symptoms of Hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough that progresses to respiratory distress.

The Centers for Disease Control said there’s no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for Hantavirus infection, but experts say that infected individuals who are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit may do better. The CDC said patients are intubated and given oxygen therapy to help them through the period of severe respiratory distress.

The types of Hantavirus that cause illness in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

The number of Hantavirus cases cycles up and down, likely in response to rainfall, which determines the food supply for the deer mouse, Ettestad said.

“More food, more mice,” he said. “More mice, more interaction with people and potentially more disease transmission.”

The number of cases this year “is not particularly out of the ordinary, but it is going to be one of our higher years,” he said.

April through July have historically been the peak months for the onset of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

First appearance

New Mexico has reported four or more Hantavirus deaths in only three years since 1993, when the illness first appeared in the Four Corners region, making national headlines.

That year, New Mexico had 18 reported cases, including 10 deaths, according to state records. Since then, New Mexico has had four deaths in 1998 and five deaths in 1999. The total number of cases varies widely from year to year.

The state’s three previous fatal cases this year killed a Cibola County man, 54, a McKinley County man, 25, and a San Juan County man, 30.

Last year, New Mexico had one nonfatal case of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. In 2014, the state had six cases and three deaths.

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