High Peaks hiker falls ill with suspected hantavirus
ADIRONDACKS A suspected case of a potentially deadly virus may have been contracted from a mouse bite in the Adirondack High Peaks late in August.
Michael Vaughan, 72, of Stony Brook, was sleeping in a lean-to in the state’s high peaks on Aug. 26 when he believes a mouse bit him. His hand, which had handled food earlier in the day, was outside of his sleeping bag, and he woke up to a sharp pain and blood on his fingernail.
A month later, Vaughan began to suffer from shortness of breath, a high pulse rate when climbing stairs and nausea, symptoms of the hantavirus, which is transmitted by rodents.
The virus presents symptoms in one to five weeks. Early symptoms include fever and headaches, and this can be followed by stomach problems like nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Eventually there is shortness of breath, which can lead to respiratory failure.
There was one publicly acknowledged case of the hantavirus in New York last year.
Vaughan, who is a research scientist, originally only joked with friends about the possibility that the bite might lead to the transmission of the hantavirus or rabies.
On Sept. 28, he was hospitalized at the Stony Brook University Hospital, where his treatment included supportive care, with hydration and oxygen.
Dr. Rekha Sivadas, the doctor who admitted Vaughan, said the hospital suspected hantavirus from the outset based on the symptoms and the events recounted by Vaughan. A blood sample was taken from him on Sept. 30, and the results, which revealed antibodies for the virus, were in on Oct. 4, two days after Vaughan had checked out and was feeling fine.
There is no known anti-viral medication for the disease, but supportive care that focuses on keeping fluid from building up in the lungs can be a treatment. Vaughan is scheduled for a chest X-ray in the near future to check for any fluid buildup.
The results of Vaughan’s test have not yet been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the state Department of Health. Results are expected some time next week from both agencies.
His illness didn’t slow him down long, though, as news of his positive test result came in while he was hiking. On that trip, he shared details of his illness with a park ranger and other hikers.
He said the ranger was aware of his case and seemed to be aware of the possibility that the virus was contracted in the Adirondacks.
Prior to his possible infection, Vaughan had heard of the disease but had never taken precautions against it.
“I will now,” he said, adding that part of the prevention would be to deal with the problem of mice in the lean-tos.
He said the lean-tos are infested with mice because of hikers leaving food there. Vaughan said that health officials should trap some of the mice and test them for the virus.
Sivadas noted that the disease doesn’t have any symptoms in mice, who are only carriers of the virus. She credited the CDC with doing a good job of actively surveilling areas for these types of viruses.
Cases of the virus developed in Yosemite Park this summer, with a couple of people dying from the disease.
State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Lisa King said the agency is aware of the claim and is awaiting confirmation from the state DOH. “If it is confirmed,” King said, “DEC will assist DOH to investigate how the virus was transmitted to the person and take any other appropriate action as determined by DOH guidance and direction.”
The state Department of Health did not respond to an email for comment.