BEND, Ore. - A 67-year-old Central Oregon woman has died of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, authorities said Wednesday, and her family said she apparently contracted it while cleaning up the family’s cabin in the Three Rivers area of Jefferson County.
Lindy Farr's son, Jeff Beseau of Yelm, Wash., told NewsChannel 21 his mother became ill more than a week ago and first was taken to St. Charles Madras, then to St. Charles Redmond and eventually to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where she passed away Tuesday.
Deschutes County public health officials identified her as a county resident. Beseau said Farr had a home in Redmond with her husband, where they got their mail, but they spent much of her time at the family's Three Rivers cabin. She had gone there before Memorial Day to clean up the cabin before family members arrived, as it “was pretty much closed up over the winter."
A friend and neighbor, Sheila Hunt, told the Madras Pioneer the woman had been vacuuming a loft in her barn before company came. She came down with flu-like symptoms about 10 days later and by last Thursday, when they called 911, she was going in and out of consciousness, to the great concern of her husband.
Asked if he had anything else he wished to share about his mother, Beseau said tearfully, “She loved her family.”
"She loved the outdoors, and she kind of took care of us as the matriarch of the family," he said, and among other things also made quilts for veterans. That came to mind when a quilt was given to her while ill at the Portland hospital.
Deschutes County Public Health Program Manager Heather Kaisner confirmed that the adult who contracted the illness had died. She said Jefferson County Public Health also was involved in investigating the exposure, along with the State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Emilio DeBess.
Deschutes County health officials said officials had confirmed the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a rodent-spread disease. They urged residents to take precautions to prevent exposure to the virus that causes HPS at home, work and during outdoors recreation.
Although rare in the region, there have been a total of 22 cases confirmed in Oregon since 1993. That includes eight cases in Central Oregon, in Deschutes and Jefferson counties, in the past 25 years. The most recent was in 2014, when a Deschutes County man in his 40s contracted the disease from an unknown source. Most cases involve contact with mice droppings.
Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that may be carried by some rodents, usually the deer mouse or white-footed mouse.
Since it is hard to tell if a mouse or a rat carries a hantavirus, health officials said it is best to avoid all wild mice and rats and to safely clean up any rodent urine, droppings, or nests in your home. The infected droppings can often be found in rooms that have been left alone for a while.
"Oftentimes, in general, the way you get hantavirus is after you're in an enclosed area that's been closed up for a while, like a summer house," Kaisner said. "You'll go in there and start sweeping up."
The virus is not spread person to person, officials said, and dogs and cats cannot give people hantavirus infections.
Hantavirus symptoms can begin to appear one to six weeks after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include tiredness, dizziness, fever and chills, muscle aches and headaches, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, and coughing. More severe symptoms may include shortness of breath or severe difficulty breathing.
Hantavirus exposure usually occurs when breathing in the virus. This can happen when rodent urine and droppings that contain a hantavirus are stirred up into the air. People can also become infected when they touch mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nesting materials that contain the virus and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.
There is no vaccine for hantavirus infection. The key to disease prevention is:
· preventing rodent infestations
· properly cleaning and disinfecting areas contaminated by rodent droppings
Keep your home, workplace, cabin or campsite rodent-free. All rodent droppings are potentially harmful. You should:
· block openings that might let rodents in
· store food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids
· place mousetraps throughout buildings
· keep your yard clean
· stack woodpiles away from buildings
Properly clean and disinfect areas contaminated by rodent droppings by following these steps:
1. Wear rubber or plastic gloves. If you are cleaning in a confined space, wear a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered respirator.
2. Do not sweep or vacuum rodent droppings. This will release particles into the air, which you could then breathe in.
3. Spray droppings with a household disinfectant or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Let the area soak for 10 minutes to make sure any virus within the droppings will be killed.
4. Wipe up wet droppings with paper towels or a wet mop if dealing with a large area.
5. Wash gloves in disinfectant and hot soapy water before taking them off. Afterwards, wash your hands thoroughly.
6. If a wet mop was used to clean the area, use disinfectant and hot soapy water to clean the mop.
Know the symptoms of a hantavirus infection, officials said, and see your health care provider immediately if they develop.