UCSF doctor talks about contracting, surviving hantavirus
Freshly minted Sacramento State graduate Spencer Fry has spent the last 13 days in the intensive care unit of Kaiser Permanente’s Roseville Medical Center, with his parents uncertain that he will survive the deadly hantavirus that they say he contracted while working at Bodie State Historic Park in the Eastern Sierra.
The Mono County health officer, however, told The Bee that he had inspected public buildings and employee residences at the park and cleared them for occupation. Dr. Rick Johnson is familiar with the illness and the rodents that cause it. The county sees more cases of hantavirus than any other county in the state, because deer mice are so common in that region. People contract hantavirus when fresh droppings, urine, saliva or nesting matter are disturbed, causing them to breathe in infectious materials.
Fry, a 22-year-old outdoorsman and anthropology major, had accepted a job as a seasonal worker at the park, his father Curtis Fry said, because Bodie was a gold-mining ghost town where he could indulge his love of archaeology and anthropology while also doing some hiking, camping and backpacking. His family – his dad, mom Haven Fry, sister Chantal Todoroff and her husband and daughter – decided to take a road trip from their homes in Citrus Heights and visit him from July 4 to 8.
The trip had a gut-wrenching conclusion for all of them, but the journey may well have saved Fry’s life. The family spent the Fourth of July at Bodie, then headed to Mono Lake, into the Tioga Pass and on through the back side of Yosemite to hike on July 6.
“(Spencer) said he’d had a headache for five or six days, and he was taking Tylenol, but it wasn’t getting rid of it,” Curtis Fry said. “My wife really was dialing in on hantavirus. Bodie has had a case of it. A gentleman died … years ago, who worked at Bodie, of hantavirus.”
On the night of July 6, Fry headed back to Bodie park to report to work the next day, but he woke up that morning with a fever that topped 104 degrees, his father said. A co-worker took him to the emergency room in Mono County, Curtis Fry said, and the doctor there told his son that he probably didn’t have hantavirus, as his mother feared, but just the flu. He sent him back to the park, advising rest and fluids.
Haven Fry wanted to take her son to doctors in the Sacramento region that night, Curtis Fry said, but her son pleaded with her to give him the night to see if there was a turnaround. The next day, with Fry delirious and still suffering a fever of 104-plus, a park employee drove him in his car to meet his family. The Frys and Todoroffs rushed him to Kaiser Roseville, Curtis Fry said, and as soon as they got to the emergency room, Spencer Fry started vomiting.
“Spencer was being taken off, and they were going to sedate him and start a respirator tube in him,” Curtis Fry said. “They proned him for 18 hours at a time for three days straight, trying to keep his lungs from building up and suffocating him, and before he went under, my wife promised him that she would be with him every night in the room and he promised her that he would get better. They both have kept their promises, but I will say that he told me today that he was very scared.”
Curtis Fry said he wants Bodie and the state to accept responsibility for the risk that they put young adults like his son in, living in buildings “infested with rodents” that they know potentially could lead to the rare virus. As part of living and working at the park, state officials said, Fry and other park aides don gloves and masks, douse droppings in a freshly mixed solution of bleach and water, and clean up any droppings. They also must dispose of any dead mice caught in traps.
Curtis Fry said his son, now stable but still in intensive care, didn’t receive any training in doing this type of work. Park officials said all employees receive a manual that they are expected to study, and it contains instructions.
Johnson said the threat of hantavirus, contracted by only about 700 Americans since 1993, is part of living in a rural environment such as Mono County. In his inspection of buildings at Bodie, he said, he found no more mice droppings than he might find in his own home.
“They’re doing the appropriate things in terms of trapping, in terms of when you find mouse droppings,” Johnson said. “You don’t do any sweeping. You basically wet everything down with normal household bleach and you wipe up, and you keep the traps fresh and check every day to make sure that if there’s any mouse around, you dispose of them using gloves and eye protection.”
The only other case of hantavirus at Bodie, Johnson said, was in 2010, and in that case, the seasonal employee was sleeping in his personal motor home outside the park. His mattress and the area under his bed, the doctor said, were infested with nesting materials.
How to help
Chantal Todoroff, realizing that her brother Spencer Fry, would need financial assistance for his rehabilitation, started a crowdfunding campaign at https://www.youcaring.com/spencerfry-878271 to seek donations. Curtis Fry said the campaign generated support from friends, strangers and people he and his wife hadn’t seen since their high school days. He said his family wanted to express deep gratitude to everyone who donated and offered up prayers.