Posted: May 31, 2013 5:45 PM by MTN News
More than two weeks have passed since a young Gallatin County woman died after contracting Hantavirus. Her mother, Sharon Baxter, says she believes doctors did the best they could for her daughter RheaLynn.
Sharon says she's still in shock over her daughter's death, but she doesn't hold anyone responsible: "I really don't in my heart believe that they did anything wrong."
RheaLynn, 20, became sick in the early part of May. Her mother took her to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital twice; she recalled, "I firmly believe they did all the right tests, CAT scan, look for blood bleeds."
RheaLynn was sent home but wasn't getting any better, and tht's when Sharon asked that she be taken to Livingston Hospital to be closer to family.
"Before she was sent to Billings, Dr. Wadley did say that he suspected Hantavirus," she said. "I knew it wasn't good."
At the hospital in Billings, a sedated RheaLynn was surrounded by family and friends.
"I went outside to go for a walk and something said ‘Go back inside.'" Sharon said. "I could hear the buzzers and I glanced at the heart monitor and it was not normal and then she was gone."
Sharon is still trying to cope with her daughter's death but does not hope it was in vain: "Unfortunately, this is an eye-opener that it doesn't matter what age you are, it can strike."
Sharon says she hopes more people become aware of Hantavirus and that children learn about it in school.
RheaLynn is the 10th person reported to have died from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in Montana since 1993. This is the first Hantavirus-related death in Montana in 2013. The greatest risk for contracting Hantavirus is associated with exposure to rodent feces in closed, dry areas.
The Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD) says that there are several ways that people can protect themselves against infection from Hantavirus.
"It is a very serious illness that is present in the environment and we want to make sure all residents know the steps they can take to reduce their chances of contracting this illness," said Alicia Thompson, the county health officer. "Take all recommended steps to control rodent populations and clean up rodent waste properly. If you have been around rodents and start to exhibit illness symptoms it is crucial to seek medical care immediately and let your provider know you have been exposed to rodent waste."
Hantavirus is carried by infected deer mice and can be passed on through their urine, saliva, or droppings. The percentage of infected deer mice depends on environmental factors and varies greatly between seasons.
Cascade County had two cases in 2012, and there have been two cases in Montana so far in 2013.
Common tasks such as sweeping and moving boxes can disturb areas that have dried saliva, urine, or droppings from infected deer mice. As infected material is moved around, tiny particles with the virus in them get kicked up into the air. It is these tiny particles that can make you sick when they are inhaled or get into your eyes, mouth, or broken skin. Symptoms can begin one to six weeks after being exposed to the virus.
The illness typically starts with 3-5 days of "flu-like" symptoms including fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Within a few days the illness rapidly progresses to severe shortness of breath.
Early diagnosis of Hantavirus and immediate medical care increase the likelihood of a full recovery. Individuals exposed to rodents or their waste who experience symptoms should immediately seek medical treatment and notify their provider that they have been around rodents or rodent wastes.
Providing this information to your provider will help him or her to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as Hantavirus.
The best way to prevent Hantavirus transmission is by controlling rodent populations in areas where you live and work. Seal up cracks and gaps in buildings that are larger than 1/4 inch, including window and door sills, under sinks around the pipes, in foundations, attics, and any rodent entry hole. Trap indoor rats and mice with snap traps, and remove rodent food sources. Keep food (including pet food) in rodent-proof containers.
If you find places where rodents have nested, or if you find rodent droppings or waste, follow these steps to help to prevent exposure to Hantavirus while cleaning:
Wear rubber or plastic gloves.
Thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water to reduce dry dusty conditions in the area being cleaned (visit www.cdc.gov/rodents/cleaning/index.html or call 454-6950 and ask for a Public Health Nurse for specific mixing instructions).
Wipe or mop the area with a sponge or paper towel (throw away items after use).
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing gloves.
Never sweep or vacuum in these areas as this can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings.
More information on Hantavirus and its prevention can be found at www.cchdmt.gov or by calling 454-6950 and asking to speak with a Public Health Nurse.