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Saskatchewan reports first hantavirus death of 2014

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Saskatchewan health officials have reported today the first hantavirus fatality of the year, prompting a warning to the public to take precautions when camping, opening their cottage, getting the RV or boat ready for the season, moving woodpiles or cleaning out buildings.

The victim was a an adult from southern Saskatchewan. Since 1994, Saskatchewan has reported 27 cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), nine of which resulted in death.

Hantavirus is a life-threatening disease spread to humans by rodents that has symptoms similar to influenza. It is carried by rodents, especially deer mice. The virus is found in their urine and feces, but it does not make the animal sick.

It is believed that humans can get sick with this virus if they come in contact with contaminated dust from mice nests or droppings. You may come in contact with the dust when cleaning homes, sheds, or other enclosed areas that have been empty for a long time. Hantavirus does not spread between humans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) divides the symptoms of hantavirus between “early” and “late” symptoms.

Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal.

There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms.

Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a “…tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face” as the lungs fill with fluid.

In the United States since 1993, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a total of 639 cases with a fatality rate of 36 percent.

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