"This is the first case we've had since last year," said Lubbock Health Department epidemiologist Ken Condon, alerting the public to the first case of Hantavirus for 2003. "This is an ugly disease," he added.
Rare, but deadly, the Hantavirus is contracted in an equally unique fashion. From mouse dropping material that becomes airborne when people are cleaning in confined spaces. Grain elevators are one example of where the disease can be caught. But even in the home, during fall cleaning, and as mice head indoors to avoid the cold, there's a possibility of catching it. "So you need to be careful about how you sweep. Exam the area before taking a broom to the floor," said Condon.
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"The fatality rate can range between 30% to 50%," said Dr. David Waagner. At the TTU Health Sciences Center, Dr. Waagner conducts research on the disease whose symptoms appear flu-like. "Yes, it can mimic a severe case of the flu or there illnesses that are present during the winter months," he said.
Discovered just 10 years ago, there is no vaccine or antibiotic. For now, health officials are preaching prevention. "Prevention? Keep your home rodent free," said Condon. If you do find droppings, be sure to spray them with a disinfectant before cleaning them up. Also, wear a dust mask.
Again, it's a very rare disease, but due to the high rate of fatality, worth the extra precaution.