Mouse droppings killed a mom, not the flu

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Hantavirus, a respiratory disease, is transmitted through the droppings, urine and saliva of infected mice and rats.

FARMINGTON, N.M. — A 27-year-old mom has died of a rodent-borne disease called hantavirus, about three months after she first showed symptoms.

Doctors at first thought that Kiley Lane of Aztec, N.M., had the flu, said Lane’s mother, Julie Barron of Lubbock, Texas. Lane went Jan. 13 to San Juan Regional Medical Center here for a diagnosis and was released the same day.

The early symptoms of hantavirus are similar to flu and include fever, severe muscle aches an fatigue. Two prevalent strains of the flu virus, which were nearing their peak when Lane first began displaying symptoms, have killed more than 11,500 people this year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Lane’s symptoms got worse, and she returned to the emergency room the next day. This time, she was hospitalized for several days before being released again, Barron said.

When Barron visited her daughter around Feb. 1, Lane looked worse than before and could not walk on her own. So the family decided to check her back into the hospital.

“Our family doesn’t really go to the doctor a lot. But in this particular case, her husband just had the gut instinct that they didn’t need to wait around, and he took her into the ER,” Barron told People magazine. Lane also has a 2-year-old daughter.

Around Feb. 3, Lane was tested for hantavirus, a respiratory disease transmitted through the droppings, urine and saliva of infected mice and rats, and received the diagnosis Feb. 5, her mother said. Lane then was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque because staff there has more experience with the disease.

“A month ago she was going to go to Costa Rica with a bunch of girlfriends … now she can’t even go do anything on her own,” Barron told KRQE-TV, Albuquerque, in February.

Hantavirus, first recorded in 1993 in the United States in a Navajo couple in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is an old but relatively rare disease. Deer mice, white-footed mice, rice rats and cotton rats have been found to be carriers in this country.

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As of January 2017, 728 U.S. cases have been reported and a little more than a third of the patients died from the disease, according to the CDC.

In the past 25 years, hantavirus has been reported in 36 states, and New Mexico has had the most cases with 109, about 15% of all patients. Of the states with 50 or more reported cases, Colorado has had 104; Arizona, 78; California, 61; and Washington state, 50.

Five days after Lane was diagnosed with hantavirus, Fernando Hernandez of Bloomfield, N.M., also received the same diagnosis in the same Farmington hospital. He had become ill Jan. 28.

Feb. 10 was his ninth birthday.

Fernando was airlifted immediately to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, said his father, George Hernandez. His mother, Anna Granados, has been sleeping in the hospital there since then.

Hernandez quit his job in early March and moved himself and their 4-year-old daughter to Aurora to be with Fernando, who has been on a ventilator called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine to pump oxygen into his blood.

“His lungs are destroyed — more than 80% — and doctors are trying to see if they can get them going,” Hernandez told KMGH-TV, Denver, in late March. “If that doesn’t work, maybe a lung transplant, but that’s a big maybe, doctors say.”

Since Fernando’s arrival in Aurora, the 9-year-old has had numerous surgeries to stop bleeding, his father has said on a GoFundMe page he established to help with expenses. Fernando has had some improvements but also has faced numerous setbacks.

Hantavirus has no specific course of treatment or cure, except to provide oxygen therapy for the respiratory problems, the CDC said.

In Albuquerque, Lane also had been hooked up to an ECMO machine to pump oxygen into her blood because her heart and lungs were weak. She had been in the intensive care unit of the University of New Mexico Hospital since being transported there Feb. 5.

Her kidneys were failing and she was on dialysis, Barron said on a YouCaring page that family friend Sherri Hull set up to help with expenses.

Lane’s family made the decision to disconnect the machine April 18 after complications that included a hole in her trachea and multiple infections, her mother said.

How both Lane and Fernando contracted the disease, which comes from breathing in airborne particles from the rodent waste, remains a mystery.

Tests of possible mouse and rat droppings around their residences came up negative.

“We would like to see some things change, so no one has to go through this,” said Barron, who now vows to memorialize her daughter by advocating for better rural health care.


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