New Mexico woman dies from virus linked to rodent droppings

A New Mexico woman’s death marked the first hantavirus-related fatality in the state this year, health officials said, who are urging residents to be vigilant when opening up sheds, cabins and other buildings.

It was not clear how the 42-year-old McKinley County woman, who was not identified by officials, contracted the virus, but the health department did conduct an environmental investigation at her home.

“We urge New Mexicans to be mindful when they are opening up sheds, cabins and other building sthat have been closed up as mice and other rodents may have moved in,” Kathy Kunkel, the state’s health secretary, said in a news release. “Stirring up dust in areas where rodents hang out — that includes everything from nets tot droppings, can cause the virus to get into the air where the particles can be breathed in. It’s best to air out cabins and sheds before entering them and wet down droppings with a disinfectant.”

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Health officials said it was the second case of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) confirmed in New Mexico this year, with the first case also occurring in a woman from McKinley County who eventually recovered.

HPS is a severe, respiratory disease that is fatal in approximately 40 cases and is transmitted through infected rodent droppings, urine or saliva. Patients can also contract the virus through air particles, but it cannot be transmitted from person-to-person.

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Symptoms of the virus typically develop one to six weeks after exposure and may include fever, muscle aches, chills, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Later symptoms may include a cough which rapidly progresses to respiratory distress. According to the health department, no specific treatment exists, but recovery may be possible with prompt medical attention.