The death of a Minnesota woman in her early 50’s of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The individual, whose name and hometown have not been released, was admitted to a hospital in Minnesota June 11 and died the following day.
According to Minnesota Department of Health officials, she flew to Page, Arizona on May 12, and stayed at Marble Canyon Lodge the nights of May 12 and 13. On May 14, the river runner joined a group of family and friends on a self guided river trip that launched on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry, Arizona ending at Diamond Creek on May 29. After the river trip, the group drove back to Page, Arizona, and spent the night at the Page Marriott Courtyard before traveling back to Minnesota.
According to trip participants, the oarsmen slept on the boats and everyone else slept in tents. One of the rafters mentioned that she saw two mice at Poncho's Kitchen, a little over half way through the trip. It is not uncommon for popular campsites along the river, such as Poncho’s, to be inhabited by numerous mice.
This is the first case of HPS with exposure likely occurring in Coconino County since a nonfatal case in 2007. There have been no Hantavirus cases reported so far in Arizona this year. Last year, Arizona had one case of Hantavirus. Two cases of HPS have occurred this year in northern New Mexico.
Recent trapping of mice along the Colorado River found the virus occurring sporadically in several species.
River runners are reminded to keep a clean camp and kitchen area. Avoid leaving dropped food in kitchen areas, and use a kitchen tarp under food preparation areas. River runners should keep food out of their sleeping areas, as it may attract mice while people are sleeping. The use of a tent with a floor is recommended and should be kept zipped closed at all times. Sleeping on a cot up off the ground is preferred if sleeping outside. Foodstuffs, such as fruit stored in open crates in rafts, should be washed before eating. Discard any food items that show evidence of being partially eaten by rodents.
HPS is caused by a virus that is inhaled through contact with fresh urine, droppings and saliva of wild mice, primarily deer mice. Breathing small particles of mouse urine or droppings that have been stirred up into the air is the most common means of infection. The illness starts with fever, headache and muscle ache, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.
River Runners for Wilderness extends our deepest condolences to the river runner’s family and friends.
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