Three Rivers woman dies at OHSU
A Three Rivers woman, who was airlifted to Oregon Health and Science University for treatment of symptoms from the hantavirus, has died.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, or HPS, is a rare and deadly virus usually transmitted by mice, that can come on suddenly, weeks after exposure to rodents or their droppings.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report hasn't come back yet, but doctors at OHSU are about 99 percent sure," said Sheila Hunt, a friend and neighbor of the 67-year-old woman, who died June 12. The report confirming that the cause was hantavirus was released June 13.
"She was vacuuming a loft in her barn because they had company coming for Memorial weekend, but didn't put on a mask," said Hunt. "They have some beds in the loft for company."
The woman reportedly did the vacuuming a day or so before the weekend, had the visitors, and then came down with flu-like symptoms about 10 days later, on June 4.
"She was at church a week ago Sunday (June 3), and the next day, started feeling poorly," said Hunt, whose husband, Tom Hunt, is the pastor of the Three Rivers Community Church. "By Thursday, when they called 911, she was in and out of consciousness. Her husband knew something was really wrong."
Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services transported her to St. Charles Redmond, where her blood was tested and sent off for evaluation, Hunt said.
On June 10, she was airlifted to OHSU, where she was in critical condition on Monday, and died Tuesday.
Since 1993, 23 people have contracted hantavirus in Oregon. Jefferson County has had two previous cases: one in 2011, involving an 18- to 19-year-old female, and one in 2012, involving a 20- to 29-year-old female, both of whom had contact with mice, and recovered from the disease. Deschutes County has had six cases since 1993 — most recently in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
According to information on the Oregon Health Authority website at www.oregon.gov/OHA, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is typically carried by rodents, particularly deer mice.
"Persons can become infected by exposure to mouse droppings, and the first signs of sickness (especially fever and muscle aches) appear one to five weeks later, followed by shortness of breath and coughing," the website notes.
Infection can be caused by contact with the urine, saliva or droppings of an infected rodent, breathing in airborne particles from urine or droppings, coming into contact with contaminated dust, or being bitten by an infected mouse.
Usually, symptoms, such as fever and chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, diarrhea, fatigue, shortness of breath and coughing, appear two or three weeks after exposure.
A rapid heartbeat and breathing can be signs of fluid buildup in the lungs.
Even in mild cases, people with HPS need to be hospitalized for treatment, including intravenous fluids and possibly breathing assistance with a ventilator.
If you have mouse droppings to clean up, the Centers for Disease Control recommend that you first ventilate the area with cross ventilation, if possible. When cleaning, wear rubber, latex or vinyl gloves, and do not disturb the droppings by sweeping or vacuuming. Spray the droppings with a disinfectant or a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water, and allow it to soak in for five minutes before wiping the materials up with a paper towel and disposing of the waste in a trash can.
Protective goggles, coveralls, boots or shoe covers and masks are also helpful to keep the rodent excrement from penetrating bare skin or mucous membranes.
"Don't fool around with it," said Hunt, who was devastated by her friend's sudden death. "You never think that breathing those spores is going to make you sick. I kept thinking she was going to pull out of it. We're all broken-hearted; she was the kindest, sweetest person."