Michigan health officials have announced the state’s first confirmed case of a human infection by the rodent-borne hantavirus, which causes a potentially deadly pulmonary illness with symptoms similar to COVID-19.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) confirmed in a release that an adult female in Washtenaw County was recently hospitalized with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), which is caused by the Sin Nombre hantavirus.
Officials believe the woman, who was not identified in the release, became exposed to the virus when cleaning a residence that appeared to be infested by rodents.
HPS, which is rare but deadly, has a fatality rate of around 40 percent. No cases of human-to-human transmission of hantavirus have been reported, with humans at risk of infection when dried materials contaminated by rodent excreta become disturbed and then either get inhaled, enter breaks in the skin, or are ingested through tainted food and water.
While bites from infected rodents can also transmit the virus, the highest risk of human infection occurs when entering or cleaning rodent-infested structures.
“We can prevent and reduce the risk of hantavirus infection by taking precautions and being alert to the possibility of it,” Dr. Juan Luis Marquez, a medical director with the Washtenaw County Health Department, said in a statement. “Use rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves when cleaning areas with rodent infestations, ventilate areas for at least 30 minutes before working, and make sure to wet areas thoroughly with a disinfectant or chlorine solution before cleaning.”
The most common symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) overlap with those in COVID-19 patients—fever, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, and muscle pains. There is also some similarity between the two illnesses in additional symptoms—namely headache as well as vomiting and diarrhea—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
BY TOM OZIMEK