WHITE MOUNTAINS - The recent death of a 40-year-old White Mountains woman has been attributed to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).
The Arizona Department of Health Services has confirmed seven cases of HPS in central and northern Arizona this year. Of those, four were fatal.
The Navajo County Public Health Services District issued a bulletin May 25 urging people who live in rodent-infested areas to take precautions when they are cleaning or opening up a summer home.
State Epidemiologist David Engelthaler said, "We know Hantavirus cases are tied closely to rodents and the environment. Environmental conditions appear to be right for Arizona to see a continued increase in cases of Hantavirus this year.
"These cases represent the most Hantavirus activity in Arizona since the outbreak of 1993-94 when HPS was first discovered in the Four Corners region." Arizona had 10 cases in each of those years.
In 1993 this infectious disease agent was discovered in New Mexico by a task force of scientists. It occurs throughout North and South America, is airborne, and if not treated is usually fatal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
To date, 51 cases of HPS have been reported in Arizona since 1992, including the new cases. Sixteen of the cases were fatal.
Hantavirus can occur wherever deer mice live. That includes most rural areas of the state. The onset of the disease is usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms that may progress rapidly to respiratory failure when the lungs fill with fluid. Patients usually develop breathing difficulty two-six days after the onset of symptoms.
This time of year many people in the White Mountains are opening up cabins for the first time. The best defense against infection from Hantavirus is to avoid disturbing areas of rodent infestation, including nests and droppings, according to the health department.
If residents have to clean up nests or feces, they should soak the area first by spraying it with a liquid disinfectant solution such as diluted household bleach. The area should be mopped up with paper towels or disposable rags and plastic gloves that can be thrown away should be worn. All the materials should be placed in double plastic bags before trashng them.
"People who have been exposed to rodent droppings and who become ill with Hantavirus-like symptoms should seek medical care," Engelthaler said.
The best preventive is keeping rodents out of houses by filling holes and gaps with steel wool or thick wire screen, and eliminating piles of junk and clutter around the house.
People in the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim area should spray any dead rodents and rodent nests with pesticide to kill fleas before disinfecting or disposing of mouse carcasses. This is to prevent flea bites and possible exposure to Bubonic plague.