A 27-year-old New Mexico mother has died after spending more than two months in ICU fighting a rare pulmonary disease caused by the mouse-borne hantavirus.
How Kiley Lane became exposed to the virus is a mystery.
Health officials in several states have issued cautions in recent weeks as people begin spring cleaning, which can increase the risk of exposure.
The hantavirus is spread through exposure to infected rodent droppings, typically from deer mice, which are found across the country and are responsible for most cases of infection in the United States and Canada.
It is rare. As of January 2017, 728 cases of hantavirus infection in 36 states have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-six percent of the reported cases resulted in death.
More than 96 percent of those cases occurred in states west of the Mississippi River. Sixteen cases of exposure to the virus had been reported in Kansas as of January 2017 and none in Missouri, the CDC reports. Colorado, with 104 cases, and New Mexico, with 109, have reported the most cases.
A resident of Denver, Colo., was diagnosed with hantavirus last month, the Denver Post reported. Though the disease is typically only found in rural and suburban areas, the infected person caught it in the city, Kerra Jones, spokeswoman for Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment, told the Post.
Investigators inspected the person's home and did not find evidence of mice, so it's unclear where the patient became infected, Jones said.
Lane tested positive for the virus on Feb. 5 and was airlifted from her home in Farmington to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she received specialized treatment for the illness.
"A month ago she was going to go to Costa Rica with a bunch of girlfriends ... now she can't even go do anything on her own," Lane's mother, Julie Barron, told Albuquerque TV station KRQE in February.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, or HPS, is the rare, fatal respiratory disease caused by hantavirus infection. The universal early symptoms of the disease include fatigue, fever and muscle aches in the thighs, hips, back and sometimes shoulders.
About half of all HPS patients experience headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to the CDC. As the virus turns deadly, fluid fills the lungs, causing coughing and shortness of breath.
The primary risk for exposure is a rodent infestation in or around the house, says the CDC.
Rodents other than deer mice in the United States that carry the hantavirus include the cotton rat (found in southeastern United States, including most of Kansas and western Missouri); the semi-aquatic rice rat (found in marshy areas in the southeastern United States); and the white-footed mouse, found in all but the western-most states.
The mice shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. Humans get it when they breathe contaminated air, which can happen when droppings or nesting materials get stirred up and tiny droplets of the virus go airborne, according to the CDC.
Scientists also believe people can get the virus if they touch something that's been contaminated with the infected urine, droppings or saliva, then touch their nose or mouth.
If mice have made your house their home during the winter, cleaning in and around the house can potentially put you at risk.
If you're opening or cleaning sheds, barns, garages, outbuildings or cabins that have been closed up during the winter, you can be exposed.
“Although hantavirus infection can occur during any month, the risk of exposure is increased in the spring and summer as people clean cabins and sheds and spend more time outside in the vicinity of rodents,” Rachel Hinnenkamp, epidemiologist for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said in a recent statement.
Montana has seen 43 cases of hantavirus since it was first recognized in 1993 — one of the highest rates in the nation. Health officials there and in several states have issued health warnings in recent weeks.
"We advise people to be extra cautious when they're sweeping out their barns in the spring. If they see rodent droppings, you really want to be wearing a mask as you are cleaning those up,” Kerry Nuckles, deputy health officer in Flathead County, told NBC Montana. “You want to make sure you are trapping if you have a rodent infestation."
Health officials in Washington state are also preaching prevention this spring. Five people last year were infected with the hantavirus, and three died in the state's worst outbreak of the disease in at least 18 years.
Wet any area where you see rodent droppings with a bleach solution of nine parts water to one part bleach, Hill advised, and let it set for at least 10 minutes before cleaning. Wearing rubber gloves, use paper towels to pick up the droppings and dispose of them immediately. Wash hands afterward.
Lane's family shared information about the virus on a YouCaring page that has raised more than $47,000 for the family's medical expenses. Lane and her husband had a 2-year-old daughter.
"Please share Kiley's story with others," the page says. "Ask questions about Hantavirus. Continue the dialogue about this terrible virus, which is feared to be more prevalent (than) fully understood.
"If one person is tested early and avoids the pain and agony Kiley endured, it is a life positively impacted. If doctors are aware of, prepared for, can test, and are able to treat Hantavirus more swiftly, others may avoid the heartache Kiley and her family have gone through."
Lane's first symptoms were nausea and abdominal pain, and at first doctors told her she had a "blockage" and prescribed laxatives, her mother told People in February. But when she started having trouble breathing, her husband took her to the hospital.
“Kiley’s story may be unique, and who knows why she or how she contracted it,” Barron, her mother, said. “But the important thing is people do need to know— if they think they’ve been exposed — to ask to be tested, because the doctors probably aren’t going to think of the virus just off the bat."
Barron was with her daughter when she died and wrote of the moment her daughter slipped away.
"Wake up! There were seconds... watching those damn monitors... I was waiting, and then, she was gone. No angels, no miracles, just a room, and my baby girl... and gone. So, how do I move? Breathe? Where is the instruction? There isn’t one," Barron wrote on Facebook on Friday.
"I had never watched a person die... and it didn’t even seem real. I’m not mad, or scared... just puzzled. That’s it? What crap! I hear voices, feel hugs.... but... all crap!
"I look around... this was her last view? I’m so mad at myself... then slowly people leave and I’m there. Why? Is this my job? I think of all the times I picked her up... yes... my job. I leaned in, 'call when you get there?'"
Lane's funeral is Saturday.