Diné College in Shiprock is partnering with the Center for Disease and Control, based in Atlanta, Ga. The team will combat the spread of the hantavirus, a sometimes fatal virus that is most common in the Four Corners region.
"The Four Corners has always had a lot of cases," said Dr. Pierre Rollin, chief of the CDC's Viral Special Pathogens Branch.
More than half of all cases reported in the United States are in or near the Four Corners area. Since the nation's first outbreak in 1993, 34 states have had confirmed reports of the virus, and New Mexico has had the most cases with 91. Colorado and Arizona are the closet followers with 79 and 66, respectively.
The virus is much more common in the west, where most states have had more than a dozen cases of the hantavirus reported. Most states in the east have had fewer than a dozen cases, if any.
The virus is spread by rodents carrying the virus. People usually get the virus after coming in contact with those rodents or their urine, droppings or nesting materials. Outbuildings such as barns and shacks are the most frequently contaminated settings.
After one to five weeks of coming into contact with the virus, people with the disease usually begin to show symptoms of fatigue, fever, and muscle aches.
In the later stages, their lungs begin to fill with fluids and they have breathing problems. About 38 percent of people who catch the virus die.
Information surrounding the virus, however, has been limited since it first hit. The CDC since has worked on collecting more longterm information and data that now can be analyzed and shared with the public.
The CDC hopes that students studying public health at Diné College will be some of the first students to distribute this information.
"The Diné people have their own views of what's happening (with hantavirus) and how it's happening," Rollin said.
Because some misinformation, or outdated information, is out there, the CDC hopes that Navajo students will be able to help halt the spread of such information, and replace it with correct information.
"This is a terrific opportunity to bring top experts in public health to work directly with our students and produce materials that can be used right in our own communities," said Mark Bauer, who will be teaching the course based on the project, "Principles of Health Education."
Bauer will teach students about the virus, but also about how to teach others about the virus. The students will use a variety of media, both conventional and social, to distribute the information — which will be in English and Navajo.
"The goal is to provide Diné College with some tools, to have the students learning," said Rollin. "They are learning something that they will be able to use in the future, in public health."