Hantavirus cardiopulmonary infection could well be responsible for the death of a seasonal state parks worker in Bodie. According to recent reports from Mono County Public Health Officer Dr. Rick Johnson, the victim, identified as Richard L. Johnson, who was known by his middle name – Laird, 61, had been sick with a flu-like illness for about 4 days, and after an examination at Mammoth Hospital, was quickly flown to Reno, where he died late last week. (Ed. Note: Johnson shared the first and last name of Mono County’s Dr. Johnson, but there is no relation.)
“Our hearts go out to his family, friends and co-workers,” Johnson said on behalf of his staff. “If laboratory tests confirm our initial impressions, then investigation into the exposure and source of the infection will be carried out in cooperation with the Mono County Health Department, Environmental Health, and the California Department of Public Health, Vector-Borne Disease Section.”
Johnson went on to advise the public to be on guard. Since there have been no reports of influenza in recent weeks, he said Hantavirus needs to be considered in anyone with a serious “influenza-like illness,” which includes fever, body and muscle aches, headache, cough or respiratory difficulty.
Since 1993, when the disease was first recognized in the United States, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 534 cases of HPS in 31 states; 36% of the cases were fatal. California has documented more than 40 cases, and in many of these, exposure has been in the Eastern Sierra counties.
Rodents, particularly the deer mouse, carry the virus that causes HPS, which is typically spread to humans when infectious material from rodents is inhaled. This occurs when fresh droppings, urine, saliva or nesting materials are disturbed and the air becomes contaminated. The Hantavirus can live in the environment for 2-3 days at normal room temperature; however, UV sunlight will kill the virus. Transmission peaks during the spring and summer months. HPS, at least in the U.S., cannot be transmitted from one person to another; nor can it be transmitted from farm animals, dogs, cats, or rodents purchased at a pet store to humans.
Rodent control in and around the home remains the primary strategy for preventing Hantavirus infection. Seal up holes inside and outside the home to prevent entry by rodents. Trap rodents around the home to help reduce the population. Carefully clean up urine and droppings, dead rodents or nests, cabins, barns, sheds, or other outbuildings, heavy rodent infestations, food sources and nesting sites.
If confirmed, this would be the third case occurring in the Eastern Sierra this summer – one in Mono County, and one in Inyo County. Earlier this summer, a case of Hantavirus was confirmed in Mammoth and another in Bishop. According to Dr. Johnson, both patients have fully recovered. The Mammoth patient reportedly contracted the disease at home, whereas the Bishop individual’s case originated a work place.