SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – While many Oglala Sioux residents living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation had heard about an outbreak of hantavirus in the Navajo Nation in 1993, they weren't worried about the disease spread by rodents until a 7-year-old member of their tribe died last week.
Tribal officials said late Monday night a second case has developed, and they are working with several agencies to pass out hundreds of cleaning kits that include gloves, masks and bleach to help prevent further spread of the disease. Rodents shed the virus in their urine, waste and saliva, and it can become airborne in particles of dust.
The Navajo outbreak, in which several otherwise healthy young people died after suffering acute respiratory failure, led to the discovery of hantavirus. But it was hundreds of miles away and nearly two decades ago. Pine Ridge didn't need to worry about that, residents thought.
"Until it hit us ... it was something we couldn't even imagine," tribal spokeswoman Donna Salomon said.
Health officials confirmed last week that 7-year-old Maria White Butterfly had died from the disease. Tribal officials say another child is currently hospitalized with a second case, although an official with the South Dakota Department of Health says it is still investigating and hasn't confirmed the infection.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Maria's grandmother, Louise White Butterfly, remembered her as an energetic young girl who enjoyed playing outside with other kids, eating a variety of foods and spending time with family at cookouts.
Louise White Butterfly said the first-grader also liked cuddling up next to her and getting tickled.
Health administrator Lisa Dillon said tribal organizations are in the midst of passing out 800 kits of cleaning supplies, with several thousand to be distributed over the course of the next month. Leaders also are working to educate members with information on TV, radio and in brochures.
"We're going to the homes and sharing information, to see if they are aware (about hantavirus), and if they need more info or want cleaning supplies, we will take them out to them," Dillon said.
Some residents are fearful, said Salomon, the tribe's spokeswoman, but officials want to make it clear that hantavirus is preventable.
Oglala Sioux officials have alerted other tribes and sent information to state officials in South Dakota and nearby Nebraska so they too can take steps to prevent infection.
Through 2011, there were 587 reported cases of the disease in the United States, including 16 in South Dakota, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The South Dakota Department of Health said Maria's death is the fifth in the state from hantavirus.
Hantavirus can infect anyone, anywhere, but cases are usually found in rural areas, according to the CDC. Utah health officials said Tuesday that they've confirmed two people have died from hantavirus in the state in the past month.
The disease is not spread by person-to-person contact.