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A resident of the Navajo Nation who lived in the east central part of Coconino County has died of complications of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. The rare but potentially fatal disease, which has no vaccine or cure, is spread by infected rodent droppings.

It is the fourth confirmed case of hantavirus reported in Coconino County since 2006. Two of those cases resulted in death.

It is not known at this time where the recently deceased individual contracted hantavirus.

Studies show that wild mice throughout Arizona have been infected with hantavirus. It is transmitted to humans when they breathe air contaminated with the virus. If fresh rodent droppings, urine or nesting materials from infected animals are stirred up, tiny droplets containing the virus get into the air. Exposure to mouse droppings in enclosed areas such as cabins, sheds and outbuildings poses the greatest potential risk for contracting hantavirus.

The disease is not transmitted from human to human.

The illness starts with flu-like symptoms including fever, headache and muscle aches, and progresses rapidly to a severe respiratory disease that has proven fatal in many cases.

Proper clean-up methods for areas that may have rodent activity can reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Those steps include:

  • Open all door and windows for 30 minutes before cleaning.
  • Do not stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping, or any other means.
  • When rodent droppings or nests are found in and around the home, spray them liberally with a household disinfectant and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes. Any rodent droppings and rodent nests should be sprayed with a pesticide to kill fleas before disinfecting or disposing the carcasses.
  • After disinfecting, wear rubber gloves and clean up the droppings with disposable materials such as paper towels, rags or disposable mop heads.
  • Seal all materials, droppings or nests in double plastic bags and dispose of them in the trash.

Health officials also recommend rodent proofing your home. For more information regarding HPS, call the Coconino County Public Health Services District at 928-679-7272, toll-free at 877-679-7272 or visit www.coconino.az.gov/health or www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hps.

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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