A Citrus Heights man has been fighting for his life in the hospital after contracting hantavirus.
His family suspects Spencer Fry, 22, caught the rare disease while working at Bodie State Historic Park in the Eastern Sierra, although the Mono County health officer has cleared buildings at the park for continued use.
Here are some facts about the disease:
1. There’s more than one type. Hantaviruses are a group of viruses carried by some rodents, reports the Centers for Disease Control. Some hantaviruses produce a rare but deadly disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
In North America, hantaviruses can be carried by deer mice, white-footed mice, rice rats and cotton rats. Other rodents, such as house mice and Norway rats, have never been known to pass hantavirus on to humans, the CDC says. Also, the disease cannot be spread to humans by dogs or cats.
2. The most severe form is rare, but dangerous. The CDC says there have been 690 reported cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the U.S. through January 2016, with most reported cases occurring after 1993. The disease strikes men and women of all races, and 36 percent of patients have died.
New Mexico has the most reported cases as of 2016 with 100, followed by Colorado, Arizona and California, with 62 reported cases, reports the CDC. Hantaviruses are almost unknown in the South outside Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, which have a handful of reported cases.
3. Hantaviruses are airborne. The viruses primarily spread when droppings, urine or saliva from infected rodents get kicked up into the air and inhaled, such as when sweeping a room to clean up mouse droppings, says the Mayo Clinic. After being inhaled, hantaviruses lodge in the lungs and invade tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, causing them to break. The lungs then fill with fluid, which can lead to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in some cases.
People with the North American strain of hantavirus aren’t contagious to other people, though outbreaks in South America have shown evidence of being transmitted from person to person.
4. Initial symptoms can be hard to distinguish from influenza or pneumonia. They may include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain, says the Mayo Clinic. After four to 10 days, more serious symptoms may set in, including a cough that produces secretions, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, low blood pressure and reduced heart efficiency.
The Mayo Clinic advises seeing a doctor immediately if you have any symptoms and have been around rodents or rodent droppings. The illness can worsen suddenly and become life-threatening.
5. Keep mice and rats out of your home to prevent hantavirus. The CDC also advises care in cleaning up mouse and rat urine, droppings and nesting materials. Use a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water, wear rubber or plastic gloves, and wash thoroughly after finishing. The CDC has more tips on properly cleaning up after rodents here.