NY state probes case of hantavirus in Adirondacks

Associated Press Modified: October 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm •  Published: October 12, 2012
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STONY BROOK, N.Y. (AP) — A New York professor is suspected of contracting the potentially deadly hantavirus during a hiking trip in the Adirondacks, although doctors said Friday they are awaiting confirmation of lab tests that were sent to the state health department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results are expected next week.

Michael Vaughan, a research associate professor in mineral physics at Stony Brook University on Long Island, has since recovered from symptoms including shortness of breath and headaches after being bitten by a rodent while camping in a wooden lean-to near Mount Marcy in northern New York on Aug. 24. He didn't start feeling symptoms until late September, and was hospitalized in an intensive care unit for several days before recovering.

This summer, the hantavirus disease killed three visitors to Yosemite National Park in California. It is fatal in about 35 percent of affected patients. The virus is carried in the feces, urine and saliva of deer mice and other rodents, and carried on airborne particles and dust. People can be infected by inhaling the virus or by handling infected rodents.

An infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook University Hospital, where the 72-year-old Vaughan was treated, said at a press conference Friday that Vaughan also attended that it is likely the professor did not contract the virus from the actual bite, but from agents in the air inside the lean-to. The lean-tos, generally placed along park trails for anyone to use, are notorious for being overrun with rodents.

Dr. Roy Steigbigel said there are no known cases of contracting the disease from a rodent bite, although he said as a scientist, he remains open to the possibility that this was a new way of transmitting hantavirus.