ISSAQUAH, Wash. - A woman who contracted hantavirus in March said she was in a medically induced coma for two weeks, after she came into close proximity with deer mice droppings and urine in her garage.
Samantha King told KIRO 7 she was clearing out her garage for a renovation project in March, when she noticed signs of rodents’ nests. But she had no idea there were deer mice carrying the hantavirus.
King said she made the mistake of using leaf-blowers, which kicked up the dust.
Within one week, she felt flu-like symptoms. Upon her first visit to the emergency room, doctors misdiagnosed her with pneumonia.
“I definitely felt extremely fatigued, and I felt very, very weak. And I don’t get sick at all. Last time I was sick was five years ago,” King said.
When she returned home, she continued to lapse into delirium and could not stand. Her friends took her back to the hospital.
“Doctors said like, 45 minutes, an hour later, I wouldn’t have made it,” King said.
She said she was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks. When she came to, she had to relearn to use her hands and legs.
“I feel extremely blessed. I guess my entire neighborhood was praying for me,” King said.
King came home to a dark house, because her electric bill had gone unpaid while she was in the hospital. While doctors said she needed to attend physical therapy sessions and use a walker, she instead opted to do house chores as exercise.
At times, her lack of physical strength was painful.
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“It’s frustrating,” she said. “You’re feeling helpless, but you don’t want to feel helpless, because that doesn’t do any good.”
Now that she is recovering, she has been put in touch with researchers at Vanderbilt University. A team there is studying blood samples from survivors like King, to try to create a new drug treatment.
“These cases like (those that) have happened in the Seattle area – are sort of like the virus knocking on the door, threatening to come into the human population,” Dr. James Crowe, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, said.
Crowe said his team likes to get ahead of the curve.
While cases are more likely to pop up in the Four Corners area of the United States, Washington state has seen the highest number of hantavirus cases this year, since 1999. A total of five cases were reported; three of those people died.
Crowe said that in studying blood samples from survivors, “We sort through that blood sample and find the infection fighting cells that help them to recover. And using those, we can make a new naturally occurring substance called an antibody from their body, and use that as a drug.”
People who need to clean out dusty, abandoned spaces should wear long sleeves, rubber gloves and a heavy-duty mask. Instead of sweeping the dust and potential mice droppings, one should wet the area with a bleach-and-water solution.
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