Hantavirus testing recommendations issued by NM health department

Illness typically caused by exposure to rodents, waste

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Health care
  • Approximately 36 percent of reported hantavirus cases result in death, according to the CDC.
  • An Aztec woman died in April after initially being diagnosed with hantavirus.
  • Hantavirus symptoms include fever, chills, severe leg and back pain, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Department of Health has released an alert to health-care providers regarding hantavirus testing, advising medical professionals how to best identify potential patients as the department works on developing resources to better confirm positive cases.

The state health department issued the alert on April 17 detailing “recommended steps to diagnose (hantavirus pulmonary syndrome) while the New Mexico Department of Health’s Scientific Laboratory Division works to onboard the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) hantavirus antibody confirmatory test.”

Hantavirus is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory illness that is typically caused by exposure to infected rodents or their waste, the release states.

Though the disease is rare, New Mexico has a relatively high rate of contraction, with 109 confirmed cases between 1993 and 2017, according to the CDC website. New Mexico cases have made up approximately 15.6 percent of cases throughout the U.S. since the disease was identified in 1993.

Approximately 36 percent of reported hantavirus cases result in death, the CDC states.

This year in San Juan County, two residents have been initially diagnosed with hantavirus, The Daily Times has reported. San Juan Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Laura Werbner said in late April that although the local hospital’s preliminary tests for the two patients were positive for hantavirus, additional hantavirus testing by the CDC came back negative.

One patient, 27-year-old Aztec resident Kiley Lane, died on April 19 at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque after months in the hospital.

Hantavirus symptoms — such as fever, chills, severe leg and back pain, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain — typically begin one to six weeks after exposure, the release states.

“Given the rapidity of onset of shock and respiratory failure, early recognition is critical in reducing the risk of mortality,” the release states. “With concerns about the reliability of the commercial hantavirus antibody testing, the New Mexico Department of Health urges physicians and other health care providers to rely on the use of the complete blood count with platelet count, along with a thorough evaluation of the symptoms (to identify potential cases).”

The state health department is currently working to establish hantavirus antibody testing used by the CDC “so that all suspected cases with a positive antibody result from a commercial lab can be quickly confirmed in-house,” the release states.

Efforts to prevent contracting hantavirus include sealing buildings so rodents cannot enter and wearing protective gear, such as gloves and masks, when cleaning rodent waste or trapping rodents, according to the state health department.

More information about the disease is available at cdc.gov/hantavirus or nmhealth.org/about/erd/ideb/zdp/hps/.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.