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Pennsylvania hunters, those staying in cabins, warned of hantavirus

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 8:24 p.m.

The death in August of a Pennsylvania man from an outbreak of a respiratory disease has researchers and state officials warning people to take precautions.

They say hunters and people staying in cabins this fall should protect themselves from hantavirus.

In August, a Pennsylvania man was one of three people who died after contracting the disease in Yosemite National Park in California. The others who died were from California and West Virginia. Nine other people became sickened.

This week, a Long Island man said he likely contracted the disease when a mouse bit him in the Adirondacks in late August.

Michael T. Vaughan, a professor of mineral physics at Stony Brook University, became ill and was hospitalized for four days one month after his hiking trip.

“I had shortness of breath and trouble climbing the stairs in my house,” the avid hiker said.

Vaughan's case has been confirmed by an Ohio lab and awaits confirmation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease is carried by deer mice native to Pennsylvania. Chances of contracting the virus are more likely in places where carrier mice urinate in areas that are seldom or infrequently cleaned.

“It tends to be in places where there is contamination over a longer period of time, like cabins. Any place that has mice could be affected,” said David Wolfgang, extension veterinarian and field studies director at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Hantavirus is a serious and acute lung disease that generally originates from inhaling deer mouse droppings and urine that might be mixed with dust. There is no direct treatment for the disease, which causes the lungs to fill with fluid, Wolfgang said.

“If it's detected early on, symptoms can be treated with anti-inflammatories. But there's no antibody for the disease,” he said.

For 15 years, there have been no cases of hantavirus that originated in Pennsylvania.

The Yosemite visitors who contracted the disease are believed to have been exposed while staying in double-walled tent cabins later found to have been infested by deer mice.

There have been 587 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome since 1993, about one-third of them fatal, according to the CDC.

The only cases of hanta­virus contracted in Pennsylvania were in 1997 in Potter and Monroe counties, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Even so, the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says that, as a precaution, its cabins are cleaned after each use.

“The safety of our visitors is one of our most important priorities. We do believe that hantavirus is something we need to be alert about and take the appropriate precautions,” said Christina Novak, the department's press secretary.

When cleaning a cabin, vacuums should be not be used because they can spread dust.

For more information about cleaning, visit http://1.usa.gov/R5W5uO.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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