Hantavirus FAQ

Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 @ 3:03 PM

Two of four people have died after getting hantavirus infection at Yosemite National Park.

About 1,700 people who visited the park from mid-June to mid-August 2012 received scary emails or letters from the National Park Service. The emails and letters warn park visitors they may have been exposed to mice carrying hantavirus -- and to look out for signs that they might have deadly hantavirus disease.

That disease -- hantavirus pulmonary syndrome or HPS -- kills nearly 40% of people who get it.

What is hantavirus?

In the early 1990s, there was an outbreak of a mysterious and deadly disease in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. An equally mysterious virus, dubbed Sin Nombre virus, caused the illness.

Sin Nombre virus turned out to be a member of the hantavirus family. Although other hantaviruses can cause fatal illness, none is as deadly as the Sin Nombre virus. It causes a disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Other strains of hantavirus also cause HPS in the U.S. These include New York hantavirus in Northeastern states, and Black Creek Canal hantavirus and Bayou hantavirus in Southeastern states. By the end of 2011, 34 states reported HPS cases. The vast majority were in Western and Southwestern states.

How do people get hantavirus infection?

Mice and rats spread hantaviruses among themselves. The droppings, urine, saliva, and blood of infected animals are chock-full of virus particles.

Deer mice carry the Sin Nombre strain of hantavirus. Cotton rats and rice rats carry hantavirus in the Southeast, while white-footed mice carry hantavirus in the Northeast.

Although it's possible to get hantavirus infection from a mouse or rat bite, such infections are rare. Most people get it by inhaling dust contaminated by rodent droppings or by touching rodent urine and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.

Getting infected is easier than it might seem. For example, you might go into your garage and scare off some mice nesting in an old cardboard box. The frightened mice leave behind a trail of urine. You pick up the mess they've left behind. You sweep up the droppings. The air fills with dust, which you breathe into your lungs.

Even healthy people who inhale hantavirus can get a fatal infection.

Hantavirus cannot spread from person to person. Contact with rodents is the only known risk.

What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)?

The hantavirus incubation period -- the time between infection and first symptoms -- isn't known for sure. The CDC notes that HPS symptoms tend to appear one to five weeks after exposure to rodent droppings, urine, or saliva.

Early symptoms are fatigue (tiredness), fever, and muscle aches in the thighs, hips, back, and sometimes the shoulders. Everyone who develops HPS has these symptoms.

Other early symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of people who develop HPS have these symptoms.

It's hard to tell these early symptoms from symptoms of the flu or other common illnesses. But if you get these symptoms one to six weeks after contact with rodents or their droppings, tell your health care professional immediately.

Late symptoms begin to appear four to 10 days after the early symptoms. These include coughing and shortness of breath. It becomes harder and harder to breathe. All patients must be hospitalized and nearly all need mechanical ventilators to survive.

The disease is often fatal, with an overall mortality rate of 36% in the U.S. In 2011, there were 24 cases with 12 deaths.

What is the treatment for hantavirus infection?

There's no specific treatment for hantavirus infection. Known antiviral drugs do not help. There is no vaccine.

The sooner people with hantavirus infection get intensive care, the better their chances of survival. Those who get care only when they can barely breathe do worst.

If you've had a rodent exposure and get any of the early symptoms, contact your health care professional immediately.

How can I protect myself against hantavirus infection?

Rodent infestations are extremely common. Keeping rodents out of your house and out of your campsite is important. Some tips:

  • Keep foods in thick plastic or metal containers with tight lids.
  • Clean up spilled food and dirty dishes right away.
  • Keep outside cooking areas and grills clean.
  • Put pet food away right after use. Do not leave pet food or water bowls out overnight.
  • Keep bird feeders away from the house. Use squirrel guards to keep rodents away from your feeders.
  • Keep compost bins at least 100 feet from your house.
  • Animal feed should be kept in rodent-proof containers with tight lids. At night, return all uneaten animal food to these containers.
  • Eliminate nesting sites near the home. Woodpiles, hay, and garbage cans should be at least a foot off the ground.

Despite our best efforts, rodents sometimes get into our houses and storage areas.

Before cleaning up, trap the rodents and seal the holes where they got in. Put on rubber, latex, or vinyl gloves and spray dead rodents with disinfectant or bleach solution. Let the disinfectant soak in for five minutes, then wrap the dead rodent in a paper towel or rag and put it in a plastic bag. Seal tightly, put in a second bag and seal it, then throw the bag in a covered trashcan.

When the traps have been untouched for a week, it's time to clean up.

The CDC suggests that after a week, virus in the rodent droppings, urine, and nesting materials should no longer be infectious. But don't take that for granted.

When cleaning up after a rodent infestation, the most important thing is NOT to create dust. DO NOT sweep or vacuum up rodent droppings.

Follow these steps:

  • Put on rubber, latex, or vinyl gloves.
  • Wet the droppings, urine, and nesting materials with a spray disinfectant. The CDC recommends one part bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Let the disinfectant soak in for five minutes.
  • Use a paper towel to pick up the droppings and other waste. Put it in the garbage.
  • After removing the droppings and nesting materials, spray down any items rodents might have contaminated.
  • Mop the floors and clean countertops with disinfectant.
  • Steam-clean or shampoo upholstered furniture and carpets where rodents have been.
  • Wash any bedding or clothing that might have been exposed to rodents or their droppings/urine with laundry detergent in hot water.
  • Remove the gloves and wash your hands thoroughly.

SOURCES: CDC web site.Scott Gediman, assistant superintendent for public and legislative affairs, Yosemite National Park, California.

© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

5 reasons to breastfeed your child 

Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 12:57 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 12:57 PM

Breastfeeding has health benefits for mothers and children. A new study suggests breastfeeding can reduce a mother's risk of heart attack and stroke. The study analyzed 289,573 women in China. 6 months of breastfeeding = 4% less likely to have hea

Many new moms have heard that "breast is best" when it comes to feeding their babies, but they may not have all the facts on just what makes it best.

When you're making the personal decision about how to feed your child, it helps to know exactly why experts so strongly recommend breastfeeding.

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Here are five major benefits of breastfeeding:

Providing an immune system boost

Breast milk contains antibodies, immune factors, enzymes and white blood cells – all of which can help protect your baby against diseases and infections, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Your baby will be less likely to have ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia and other common yet potentially serious ailments as a result.

Even better, this immune system boost can, in some cases, last after you've weaned your baby.

Breastfeeding provides your baby with many important health benefits.(Sergei Bobylev/For the AJC)

Building a strong emotional bond

Psychology Today touts the bond that develops between nursing moms and their babies. This is not only because of the close, extended contact but also due to the release of hormones in moms as well as their babies.

This close bonding is believed by many to help reduce social and behavioral problems later in life, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Improving brain development

Previous studies have linked breastfeeding to better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults. A Brown University study now suggests that changes in brain development occur even earlier than that  "almost right off the bat." 

Researchers used baby-friendly MRIs to look at the brain's white matter, which helps parts of the brain communicate with one another. Babies in the study who were exclusively being breastfed had 20 to 30 percent more white matter growth than babies who weren't.

Fulfilling your child's unique – and changing – nutritional needs

Breast milk changes composition to adapt to your child's nutritional needs, according to Psychology Today. It contains all the nutrition your baby needs for his or her first six months and continues to provide benefits beyond that.

And even if your baby is premature, the breast milk you produce in the first few weeks is also designed to meet your baby's unique needs. For example, it's higher in protein and minerals; it also contains different types of fat that can be more easily absorbed and digested by your premature baby.

Lowering your child's risk of SIDS

Breastfeeding is thought to lower your child's risk of SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome. 

Medical experts usually recommend that to keep your baby safe, you should keep him or her in the same room if you'd like to, but not in the same bed. They suggest that breastfeeding moms keep their babies in a crib beside their own bed to make breastfeeding easier and keep babies safe from bedding or from being accidently rolled over on.

Need help or advice about breastfeeding?

If you'd like to breastfeed your baby but have concerns or want more information, hospitals usually employ lactation consultants who can help you and your baby with breastfeeding. To find one on your own, search at ilca.org/why-ibclc/falc.

5 ways to stop killing your back with bad posture at work

Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 @ 12:10 PM
Updated: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 @ 12:10 PM

Here are five of the best ways to have better posture at work Consider a chair with a backrest that supports the curve of your lower back Sit with your back in a normal, slightly arched position to avoid back pain Combat back pain by spending part of your work day sitting on an exercise ball Lumo Lift, a device that attaches to your shirt with a magnet, vibrates when you should adjust your posture At least once an hour, stand and stretch

"Sit up straight!" may sound like nagging straight out of the 1950s, but it's spot on advice for the 21st century workplace. 

Constant shifting around to get comfortable at your work computer, and hunched over a smart phone at home, wreaks havoc on your back, neck and shoulders.
Regular computer users perform 50,000 to 200,000 keystrokes each day, according to the nonprofit website, OrthoInfo.com, compiled by orthopedic surgeons. "Under certain circumstances and for vulnerable individuals, frequent computer use that involves awkward postures, repetition, and forceful exertions may be related to nerve, muscle, tendon, and ligament damage," OrthoInfo.com noted

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Postures induced by using modern technology can also cause other health problems. When you lean forward at your desk, for example, you're more likely to clench your jaw and tighten facial muscles, which leads to headaches and jaw pain, according to LiveStrong.com.
Hunching over can also reduce your lung capacity by as much as 30 percent, Dr. Rene Cailliet told Livestrong.com. The former director of University of Southern California's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation noted that lungs underperforming leads to a deficit of oxygenated blood which in turn can contribute to shortness of breath, cloudy thinking and even heart and vascular disease.
But you don't have to sit back and accept these plagues of poor posture as a cost of using technology.

Experts from business coaches to orthopedic surgeons suggest ways to improve your posture and spare your back.

Here are five of the best ways to have better posture at work:

The Edge Desk System is a portable, foldable desk and kneeling chair that expands and collapses in 10 seconds. (Photo courtesy Edge Desk/TNS)

Choose your chair. To encourage great posture in an office environment, your best bet is a chair that is stable and adjusts easily for height and tilt, according to reporting on the OrthoInfo website. "Consider a chair with a backrest that supports the curve of your lower (lumbar) back," the organization said. "Experts recommend you consider positioning your thighs horizontal with your knees at about the same level as your hips. Rest your feet comfortably on the floor or on a footrest if you need one." 

Other chair attributes that encourage great posture included a padded seat with a pan at least one-inch wider than your hips as well as adjustable armrests that position your elbows near your waist.

Sit like you mean it. An OrthoInfo.com article written and reviewed by orthopedic surgeons recommends sitting with your back in a normal, slightly arched position to avoid back pain. Other work posture basics from the orthopedic surgeon community include keeping your head and shoulders erect, and making sure your work surface is set at a height that won't require you to lean forward.

Sit on a ball. Cybersecurity expert and entrepreneur Joseph Steinberg, told Inc magazine that he combats back pain and other drawbacks of bad posture at work by spending part of his work day sitting on an exercise ball, alternating it with his leather office chair. 

"Sitting on the ball makes it more difficult to slouch, engages various muscle groups that remain at rest when slouching on a chair, and builds muscle," he noted. "While the ball is clearly not as comfortable a seat as an executive chair, I got used to it pretty quickly."

Get a vibrating reminder. Steinberg also recommended the Lumo Lift, a tiny device that attaches to your shirt with a magnet. If you slouch, it gently vibrates to remind you to adjust your posture.

Stand and stretch. Even if you're not slouching, you need ample breaks to combat back pain and other effects of working in front of computers for a long time. At least once an hour you should stand and stretch, according to OrthoInfo.com. Place your hands on your lower back and gently arch backward before returning to your work.

It’s never to late to go get a mammogram

Published: Monday, October 09, 2017 @ 10:37 AM


            Chaya Vidal of Englewood had her first mammogram two years ago, at 72. CONTRIBUTED
Chaya Vidal of Englewood had her first mammogram two years ago, at 72. CONTRIBUTED

Chaya Vidal of Englewood had her first mammogram two years ago, at 72. So she may seem an unlikely public champion of the test.

But she’d learned a valuable lesson and felt compelled to share it in her synagogue’s bulletin.

“There’s never been a history of cancer in my family, and I thought I was probably too old,” she said.

Yet, there she was with an unexplained bruise. She asked her primary care doctor, Jason Schatzel, M.D., to order a mammogram.

The evening after her mammogram on Nov. 24, 2015, Dr. Schatzel called.

“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see from the technician’s face that it was a bad, bad mammogram on both breasts,” she explained. It was Stage IIIC cancer.

Vidal, now retired from synagogue administration, was teaching a Hebrew lesson when the call came. With her student in the room, she said, “There was no way I could appear worried or nervous. I just acted like I was listening to a casual report from a doctor.”

But Dr. Schatzel was ordering biopsies of both of Vidal’s breasts, immediately.

The next day, the youngest of her three children, Chava, drove in from Cincinnati for Thanksgiving.

“When I said I needed to talk, I must have said it in a very serious tone, because she replied, ‘Why? Are you dying?’ I said I hoped not. I explained that I probably had cancer. We both laughed, because it was such a bizarre thing for her to say, and it broke the tension.”

Vidal added, “I also told her, ‘The last time I had an ultrasound was to find out I was pregnant with you.’ She said, ‘Mom, I was with you then, and I’m with you now.’”

Chava has been with her mother at every doctor’s visit and chemotherapy treatment since the surgical removal of both her breasts.

Two surgeons, Thomas Heck, M.D., and Michelle DeGroat, M.D., conducted the mastectomies simultaneously “to minimize the time I was under anesthesia, because of my age,” Vidal explained. “They were absolutely outstanding.”

In her room after surgery, cheerleading pom-poms covered nearly every surface. Eighty of them. With nurses’ permission, Chava had placed them there, each carrying encouragement from family and friends.

Chava’s special touches graced her mother’s entire journey: a gratitude journal, scrapbooks of cards and letters, a homemade fleece blanket and pillows for chemotherapy, and plenty of crossword puzzles and hard candy.

Vidal had a great concern lifted when she tested negative for an inherited BRCA gene mutation that would have increased her children’s risk for cancer. As a descendant of eastern European Jews, Vidal is at heightened risk of carrying the mutated gene.

“That was the best piece of news during that time,” she said. “It was bad enough being ill, but then finding out that I could possibly pass cancer on to my children was the worst time of my life.”

Vidal’s initial chemotherapy, starting in February 2016, brought debilitating side effects. But her oncologist worked with her to find a milder alternative.

Chemotherapy ended July 25, 2016, and Vidal’s cancer is in remission. For at least five years she’ll take a daily anti-hormone pill. “But the fact that I’m alive and able to do most of the things I love again is great,” Vidal said.

Those include:

• Walking her dog, Kip, adopted a few months before her diagnosis. During treatment, “Even walking a block became an effort.”

• Walking the track and water aerobics at the YMCA.

• Writing and directing spoofs of musicals for her synagogue’s Purim celebrations.

• Teaching adult Hebrew classes.

Vidal’s cancer journey transformed Chava’s life, too.

Like her mom, Chava serves as a synagogue program director. But a year ago, after hours in hospitals and doctors’ offices, she told her mom, “I think I’d like to be a nurse.”

She plans to begin classes soon at Sinclair Community College.

“That’s the best part of the story,” Vidal said. “The nurses would kid her, ‘Chava, you could do this now.’”

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we share the inspiring stories of breast cancer survivors here in the Tuesday Life section, contributed by Premier Health.

How Beavercreek woman faced two life-changing battles

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 6:43 PM


            Heather Minton of Beavercreek and her family husband Joe, 47, and son Hunter, 5. CONTRIBUTED
Heather Minton of Beavercreek and her family husband Joe, 47, and son Hunter, 5. CONTRIBUTED

Faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, you could cry and get mad. If you’re like Heather Minton of Beavercreek, you do the opposite.

“It’s a lot easier to be happy and know that whatever hurdles come at us, we are going to fight,” said the 43-year-old breast cancer survivor and dental hygienist.

That positive, forward-looking attitude carried Minton and her family — husband Joe, 47, and son Hunter, 5 — through her breast cancer battle, plus a second fight against leukemia for Hunter.

Everything started when Minton’s obstetrician recommended a baseline mammogram. (Her grandmother had a double mastectomy in 1970.)

A day after the test, Minton received a call. Doctors wanted a closer look. A week later, she had an ultrasound. A week after that, doctors biopsied her left breast.

“I found out it was cancer as I was leaving the pediatrician’s office for my son’s 15-month check-up,” Minton said.

It was Sept. 18, 2013. She was 39.

The following Monday, Minton and her husband met Dr. Melissa Roelle, medical director of the High Risk Breast Cancer Center at Miami Valley Hospital South. Dr. Roelle recommended BRCA mutation genetic testing and had them meet with a Premier Health oncology nurse navigator. “They kept pushing tissues toward us, but my husband and I made it funny,” Minton said. “We were not going to cry.”

The genetic test was negative. Minton talked options with Dr. Roelle and Dr. James Sabiers, oncologist at Premier Health.

“The first thing I said was ‘Let’s cut it out,’” Minton said.

She remembers reading about women with cancer in one breast, only to have it reappear in the other breast years later. Minton knew her cancer — Stage 2A, HER2 receptive — was aggressive. She would need chemotherapy and radiation.

“That’s when I decided on a double mastectomy,” Minton said.

Minton’s choice was a brave one, and certainly not easy to make, Dr. Roelle said.

“Without a gene to blame it on, Heather wondered why it happened to her,” said Dr. Roelle. “Heather is a mother first and I know she was extra brave because of what she knew she was fighting for — her life with her husband and her son.”

Dr. Roelle performed the surgery. Six weeks later, Minton began six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 33 radiation sessions.

Frustration set in when Minton had to delay her final radiation treatment so her red, burned skin could heal. Then the reconstruction method she’d planned fell through. The skin on her chest was too damaged.

Dr. Todd Hicks, a plastic surgeon with Premier Health, suggested the latissimus dorsi flap procedure instead. Minton had surgery in November and completed her HER2 targeted treatments the following month.

Two months later, the Mintons’ world was rocked — again.

Hunter was sick. What the Mintons thought was strep throat turned out to be leukemia. Doctors at Dayton Children’s Hospital diagnosed Hunter on Feb. 28, 2015. He was 3 years old.

Knowing how intense cancer treatments can be gave Minton insight into what her son would endure during his own treatments.

“We had some breakdowns and meltdowns,” Minton said. “We are human. All three of us had our moments where ‘Enough is enough!’”

Minton is an optimistic and determined person, with a positive prognosis, Dr. Roelle said.

“She told me she believes part of the reason she had cancer was to better prepare her to be a mother for her son, who was going to have to go through a cancer journey of his own,” Dr. Roelle said.

Cancer and its aftermath brought the family closer together. Four years after their cancer journey began, the Mintons are regaining some normalcy. Hunter, in his second year of maintenance chemotherapy, started kindergarten this fall. Minton sees her doctor every six months.

“It was rough for us,” Minton said. “My husband, he is my rock. He went through it twice.”

Constant support from doctors, nurses, co-workers, friends, family and others living with cancer got them through, said Minton.

Not to mention that sense of humor.

“I told my husband it wasn’t a competition and that it is not his turn after Hunter.”

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we share the inspiring stories of breast cancer survivors here in the Tuesday Life section, contributed by Premier Health.