EAGLE COUNTY — A 41-year-old man had lived in Eagle County for only two months before hantavirus killed him.
Manuel Hernandez was from Mexico and was here on a work visa. His death makes him Eagle County’s first case of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome since 2005, said Jennifer Ludwig, the county’s public health director.
Coroner Kara Bettis said Hernandez’s manner of death was natural. He died a couple weeks ago, Bettis said. The investigation took that long because the Centers for Disease Control requires two sets of lab results to confirm a hantavirus death.
“Hantavirus causes death in approximately 40 percent of cases,” Ludwig said.
The only other hantavirus case reported in the region this year was last month in Mesa County, confirmed by the Mesa County Health Department.
Hantavirus is carried by deer mice, which are common to rural areas throughout Colorado, Ludwig said. Deer mice are brown on top with white bellies and have large ears. Common house mice are all gray, have smaller ears and don’t carry hantavirus, Ludwig said.
The virus does not spread from person to person, Ludwig said.
You can be infected if mouse urine and droppings that contain hantavirus are stirred up into the air and inhaled or if you touch urine, droppings or nesting materials that contain the virus then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It can also be transmitted through a bite, Ludwig said.
Symptoms begin from one to six weeks after exposure and include high fever, severe body aches, headache and vomiting. Initially, there are no respiratory symptoms.
“Because no effective treatment exists for hantavirus, prevention is the key to avoiding infection,” Ludwig said.
Colorado typically sees the most human cases of hantavirus in the spring and summer.
According to the CDC:
• Through Dec. 31, 2013, a total of 637 cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome have been reported in the United States.
• Of those, 606 cases occurred after 1993, following the initial identification of HPS; 31 cases were retrospectively identified.
• The state’s 81 cases is the nation’s second-highest, behind New Mexico’s 94.
• Cases have been reported in 34 states. More than 95 percent of cases are in states west of the Mississippi River.
• About three-quarters of patients with HPS have been residents of rural areas.
• 63 percent of cases have been male, 37 percent female and 78 percent are white.
• The mean age of confirmed case patients is 37 years (range: 6 to 83 years).
• In 2013, 43 percent of all HPS cases were fatal.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.