MOSES LAKE -- Health officials said Tuesday that a Grant County woman's death likely was caused by hantavirus, a rare respiratory illness spread by rodents.
The woman, who died in September after being hospitalized, most likely was exposed to the virus in her recreational vehicle south of Moses Lake, officials said.
"The health district and I are saddened by her death," said Jefferson Ketchel, Grant County Health District administrator. "Our sympathy goes out to her family during this difficult time. Her family has been tremendously helpful during the investigation into the cause of her illness."
The woman's death was the second in Grant County this year from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, the illness caused by hantavirus. A woman in her 30s died from the virus in March and was believed to have been exposed in Grant County.
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The last death in Grant County before this year was in 2005.
The virus is found in the urine, saliva and droppings of infected rodents, and the state Department of Health reports that about 14 percent of deer mice -- the only known rodent carrier in Washington -- are infected.
Confirmed cases of the virus are rare, with only 45 reported in Washington since 1993. About 35 percent of those patients died, according to the health department. Mandatory reporting of hantavirus cases began statewide in 2000.
Amy Person, health officer for the Benton Franklin Health District, said no cases have been reported in either county since 2009, when Franklin County had one confirmed case.
Benton County's last reports were of two confirmed cases in 2007.
Neither county had a hantavirus death on record that Person could find in the district's archives.
People become sick when they breathe in air particles stirred up from rodent droppings or nests. The greatest risk occurs in places like sheds or cabins that are enclosed and have poor air circulation.
Symptoms appear one to six weeks after exposure and include fever, muscle aches and fatigue. Symptoms also can include headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.
Preventive measures include keeping homes, cabins, garages, sheds, workplaces or campsites clean and free from rodent droppings.
Doors and windows should be left open for at least 30 minutes before cleaning to allow air to circulate in areas where deer mice might live. Gloves and masks should be worn to protect from exposure.
Health officials recommend against using vacuums, brooms, dusters or cleaning implements that might stir up dust, and instead suggest wetting possibly contaminated areas with disinfectant or bleach solution, and letting soak for at least 10 minutes before cleaning.
Dead rodents, nesting materials and feces should be sprayed with disinfectant until soaked and then double-bagged along with cleaning materials.
Gloves should be disinfected before removal, and hands should be thoroughly washed.
For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/hantavirus.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org