Two Utahns died last month from hantavirus, the first confirmed cases of the year and first fatalities from the virus since 2009, say health officials.

“We usually have about one case a year. Sometimes they survive and sometimes they don’t,” said JoDee Baker, an epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health. “But to have two fatalities so early in the season was why we wanted to get the word out.

Hantavirus cases

There have been 587 reported cases of hantavirus in theU.S. from 1993 to 2011, with three-quarters of the victims living in rural areas.   



Officials will not release the names of the deceased. Both were adults between the ages of 20 and 65. One lived inMillardCountyand the other inSaltLakeCounty, but it’s unclear where they were infected.

“We know they had rodent exposure,” because that’s how the virus is spread, she said.” We just don’t know where. We’re still investigating.”

Summer is peak season for hantavirus, which is carried predominantly by deer mice inNorth America. People are usually exposed by breathing contaminated dust after disturbing or cleaning rodent dropping or nests or by living or working in rodent-infested environments.

Exposure is more common in rural areas, but theSaltLakeCountyvictim isn’t believed to have traveled throughout the state and could have been infected within county lines, Baker said.

In North Americathere is no evidence of the virus spreading from human to human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection can lead to respiratory failure or Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a deadly lung disease with a mortality rate of 38 percent.

“It’s really rare, but potentially deadly, which is why we want people to be aware of their surroundings,” Baker said.

Rodent populations fluctuate. But weather, particularly a dry spell followed by a period of heavy rain, can increase a person’s chances of exposure to hantavirus, said Hector Aguilar-Carreno, a researcher and assistant professor atWashingtonStateUniversity’s Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology.

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