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Hantavirus Kills Three In Colorado, Sickens A Fourth

deer mice, deer mouse
John Good
National Parks Service

Health officials said a Garfield County man who contracted hantavirus is now recovering at home, but the disease has killed three others in Colorado so far this year.

The Sin Nombre Virus is a strain of hantavirus found in the Four Corners states.

"Rodents, deer mice in particular, shed the virus in their urine and droppings," said Thomas Orr, a regional epidemiologist at the Mesa County Health Department, "and then when humans come in contact with those droppings they breathe in the virus." 

It can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a sometimes lethal respiratory disease.

Last year, there were six cases of hantavirus in Colorado. Three people died, according to state health officials. 

Since January, four cases of the virus were reported in Chaffee, Garfield, La Plata and Phillips counties.

State health officials said three of those were fatal.

"In general about 40 percent of people who contract this do die," Orr said. 

Hantavirus is a rare disease, but Orr said people should still take caution when cleaning areas where rodent droppings or nesting are present.

"Use a wet cleaning method, a disinfectant that will kill hantavirus," he said. " If you have heavy infestations it might help to wear a mask or if you have very heavy infestations it’s probably better to call a professional."

Colorado has the second highest number of cases of the disease in the nation after New Mexico, according to federal data. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said that in 2014 there were four cases of hantavirus in Colorado and one fatality. That is incorrect. There were six cases and three deaths. 

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