Health officials confirmed Michigan’s first human case of Sin Nombre hantavirus on Monday.
The woman was likely infected during the cleaning of a residential home that had been vacant for about two years, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Health Department.
“We believe the individual was subjected to cleaning of the home,” she said. “Fecal matter … from the attack was probably airborne during the cleaning and was inhaled by the individual.”
The woman was hospitalized and treated for hantavirus lung syndrome, the disease caused by the virus, but she is recovering and no longer in the hospital, Ringler-Cerniglia.
Officials say infection is rare, but still encourage others to contact their local health department if they need to report a case.
Here is everything to know about Sin Nombre hantavirus.
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What is Sin Nombre hantavirus?
Hantavirus is a family of viruses that spread through rodents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hantavirus can be spread to humans through aerosolized viruses that rodents throw into their urine, feces and saliva. The virus can cause hantavirus lung syndrome, which is a serious and sometimes fatal respiratory disease.
Each hantavirus is spread through a specific rodent. Its Nombre virus is spread through the deer mouse.
Researchers made this discovery while studying the origins of a 1993 hantavirus outbreak in an area shared between Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah known as the “Four Corners”. Researchers also concluded that the virus was unlikely to be transmitted between humans.
Rare cases of another hantavirus – called the Andean virus – in Chile and Argentina have seen person-to-person transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Its Nombre virus is the most common hantavirus in the country, said Dr. Tony Schountz, Professor of Microbiology at Colorado State University.
“It’s the virus that we have primarily out here in the West,” he said. “What makes the West so special is that it is so dry and it facilitates aerosolization of the virus.”
On Tuesday, Nevada reported its 14th case of hantavirus since 2005, but it is unclear if the disease was caused by the Sin Nombre virus.
From 1993 to 2017, there were only 728 confirmed hantavirus cases in the United States, most of which were not fatal, according to CDC data. Schountz estimates that the Sin Nombre virus accounted for about 600 of them.
Experts see cases as early as February, but tend to peak in spring and summer, he said. Most cases have been identified in adults.
Symptoms of Hantavirus lung syndrome
Early symptoms of HPS include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in large muscle groups such as the thighs, hips, back and sometimes shoulders according to the CDC. Half of the patients experience headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Cough and shortness of breath can occur later in the disease as the lungs fill with fluid, the agency says. Schountz said the heart can also be affected by HPS as it works overtime to increase blood pressure, which drops from plasma leaking into tissues.
“It can be a long and difficult recovery from this infection because it can cause significant damage to the body,” he said.
There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection.
Is Sin Nombre hantavirus deadly?
Hantavirus has a high mortality rate, where approx. 36% of people die from HPS, reports the CDC. This is because people usually do not catch the virus early to treat it, Schountz says.
“It is the key to getting these patients right away into the right treatment regimen. If that happens then there is a good chance you will survive, ”he said. “The problem is that many people wait until it’s too late and they show up at the emergency room with fluid already built up in their lungs.”
Health experts urge Americans to avoid infection by staying away from places where rodents leave garbage or wearing rubber gloves and a mask that covers your nose and face while exposed to mouse muscle.
“Deer mice are everywhere, and one has to assume that some of them are infected, no matter where they are,” Schountz said. “You must take the appropriate precautions when entering their habitat.”
Contributions: Ryan Miller, USA TODAY, and Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage in the USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for ethics, innovation and competition in healthcare. Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Sin Nombre hantavirus: Michigan reports on the first human case. What to know