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.
Vaughan said he likely would not have visited a doctor but for the fact that he had recently changed physicians and had a physical examination already scheduled in late September. When blood tests from that exam came back, he was sent directly to the emergency room. "I probably wouldn't have done anything and I might not have made it," he told reporters.
He said he has since taken another hiking trip to the Adirondacks, although he said he is reconsidering whether he will continue to camp in lean-tos. "Many avoid them because of the high mouse population," he said.
Steigbigel said if test results from the state and CDC confirm hantavirus, experts will likely be sent to the area where Vaughan camped, as well as to his Stony Brook home, to take samples for further review.
Nine people who visited Yosemite National Park this summer became infected with hantavirus. Three of them later died.
People infected with the virus usually develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath, chills and muscle and body aches. The illness can take six weeks to incubate before rapid acute respiratory and organ failure.