Utah health officials confirm 2 hantavirus deaths

Tuesday , June 05, 2012 - 2:55 PM

Michelle Rindels

Public health officials have linked two deaths in Utah to hantavirus in the past month, an unusually high rate for the rodent-borne disease that isn’t always fatal.

The two victims — one in Millard County and another in Salt Lake County — had been exposed to rodents in the two to three weeks prior to their deaths, according to Utah Department of Health epidemiologist JoDee Baker.

"We get maybe one case a year," Baker said Tuesday. "It’s unusual to see two fatalities so early in the summer."

She added that the state hasn’t confirmed any non-lethal cases yet this year.

Hantavirus, which has been in Utah for decades, is spread when humans inhale dust around rodent-infested areas. It’s not spread from person to person.

Symptoms usually begin with a fever, muscle aches and chills. Other common symptoms include coughing, nausea and vomiting.

In more than half the cases where hantavirus affects the lungs, patients die, according to federal health data.

Privacy restrictions prevent Utah officials from releasing specific information about the two victims who died, although Baker said they were between 20 and 55 years of age.

Baker said the disease appears to be worse in people who have a healthy immune system.

While the disease is rare, people can be at risk if they kick up dust in an area with mice and rats or are improperly cleaning up rodent droppings.

Authorities say people cleaning droppings should wear a mask, glasses and gloves, then soak the dirty area with disinfectant or a bleach solution. After letting the solution soak in for five minutes, officials say people should use a paper towel to wipe up urine or droppings, and throw the towel away. The area should be mopped with the disinfectant or bleach solution.

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