A task as simple as vacuuming out the basement after a flood may have cost a Montauk man his life.
Chiropractor David Hartstein, 35, died last week from a rare lung infection blamed on contamination from infected mice and rodents.
According to public health professionals, humans can become infected by inhaling microscopic particles of diseased rodent droppings, urine or saliva.
Hartstein's death from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome has shocked neighbors who saw him alive and seeing patients as recently as last Thursday.
"I was supposed to see him again Saturday," said Charles Flynn, who told NBC New York he still couldn't believe it.
Hantavirus is rare and sporadic. This case marks only the second confirmed and deadly incidence in New York state in the last 15 years.
Health officials have said they believe this case is isolated, but have also urged Suffolk County residents to take precautions against mice and rodent infestations in their homes.
Among the recommendations: store food in closed containers and seal tiny holes and spaces in floors, walls and under doors.
Symptoms of contamination may not manifest for up to five weeks. Physical signs include high fever, muscle pain, coughing and headaches. Respiratory problems may worsen after a few days and can prove fatal.
"It is devastating," said Geeta Jirham, one of Hartstein's neighbors.
Health officials have advised against contact with rodent droppings or urine. Any cleanup should be done with rubber gloves and a solution of detergent and bleach, and the debris deposited in a double-sealed plastic bag for disposal.