Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Motivation – Why I've set up Hantasite.com

This last Thanksgiving night I drove my wife to an Urgent Care facility with what appeared to be the flu. We had come in the previous day and they sent her home with that diagnosis and an anti-emitic. It didn't work. 

By 2:00 AM, she was being admitted to the hospital, one of the most advanced health care facilities in the world.

By 10:00 the following morning she was in the ICU and I was signing paperwork for her to be intubated. She would be placed on the ventilator and kept barely alive with myriad drugs and supportive measures.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my wife had contracted hantavirus, the deadly mouse-borne viral disease. She was rapidly collapsing into hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

The mortality rate of HPS is 40%.

After spending six days on the ventilator and ten days in intensive care, my wife survived and is making a relatively remarkable, but agonizingly slow recovery. Few others are as lucky.

I've studied hantavirus fairly seriously since that time, both to aid in her recovery and to protect myself. As a materials scientist with long experience in a wide variety of fields, it has been possible to make some aspects of that study in some relative depth. This is particularly true because hantavirus is such an unusual illness that it receives a fraction of the research interest of more common illnesses.

This American strain of hantavirus, previously known as Four Corners virus and now named Sin Nombre virus, SNV, was only identified in 1993. After many early studies, work has tapered off, Zika, dengue, and other emerging diseases receive greater emphasis. SNV is believed to be extremely rare, so funding is limited, doctors have almost never seen a prior case, and sometimes have little working knowledge of the disease. Basically, they have to google it like everyone else.  

It would take me a few more days after learning of my wife's hantavirus diagnosis to read through enough of the CDC's web information on hantavirus to figure out that because of the long incubation time, somewhere between 7 days and 30 days, it was still in question whether I would also become ill, and perhaps die. I was living and working in a hantavirus site, on the outskirts of Redmond, Washington, of Microsoft fame, somewhere near the top of the image below. 
Our place is the little white spot South of the horse track near the top, I think. 
Which brought me to wonder: Why? Why did this extremely rare disease, with only 700 documented cases in the entire U.S. over 23 years, happen to strike my wife? Hantavirus is not at all rare among mice, and those mice that are the most numerous rodents in North America.

Although I still am in a hantavirus site, the source of this blog name, btw, www.hantasite.com, I'm concerned, but not terrified, because we do not have mice swinging from our chandeliers. In fact, we don't even have chandeliers. We have two and a half acres in a beautiful neighborhood where half the homes are "McMansions," (not ours). This is not a rodent-infested slum.

But, we are in the foothills of the Cascade mountains, at the very edge of the urban growth boundary where mice meet men. The background image for this site is from a Google maps image of our neighborhood (above). 

And, the mouse population had recently exploded because of near perfect conditions. 

The Deer Mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus,
primary host of Sin Nombre virus.
1. A bad year for mouse predators because of a summer drought. 
2. Limitless mouse food from a huge crop of Big Leaf maple seeds.

A big year for Deer mice leads to higher population densities, and that favors a higher incidence of hantavirus within that mouse population. Until that population is reduced over time, the Seattle, Washington outskirts is now a hantavirus "hot spot."

The abstract of an article that discusses the relation between mouse population and hantavirus incidence is at:

I have just learned last night of another hantavirus case in nearby Issaquah, WA and this person was not as lucky as my wife. He passed away, a healthy man at age 34, just last month. 

Hantavirus is striking people in the outskirts of Seattle, and neither the health authorities nor the press have done anything to raise any alerts. 
Weasels, a local mouse predator, were struck by a summer drought.
I've sighted a long tailed weasel, a sinuous furry four legged snake. 

Moreover, it is highly probable that there is an additional, perhaps even more alarming factor in my wife's illness. 

My wife and my environments had overlapped extensively, in both space, and time (where we were, and when we were there). In fact, in every way that we could think of, I had greater chances of exposure than she had.

In every way except one. 

My wife had much more exposure to the air from her automobile cabin air system than I did. And that air system had been infiltrated by deer mice, the primary host of sin nombre virus. 

As I studied hantavirus I grew concerned that that exposure source, automobile cabin air systems, may be causing HPS cases while also leading to those cases to be misdiagnosed. There may be a significant number of people contracting hantavirus from infestations of their automobiles. Of course, if you die, or nearly die, a significant number is one.

The reasons for that concern are a little complicated, involving things like the materials science of hantavirus virions suspended in mouse urine, for example. It will require a careful explanation, so before I get to that line of reasoning, I need to build a background of understanding. I plan to do that in a series of posts in this site to explain the reason for my concerns and to raise the question:

“Are people contracting hantavirus from automobile cabin air systems?”

Although there are good resources for learning about hantavirus on the web, they are not as accessible as they might be, and are scattered across a number of locations. When I looked for a good book to get an overview on SNV, I found essentially none.

These, then, are my objectives for creating the hantasite.com website:

1.     To create a resource for understanding the risk from hantavirus, and to aid in prevention.

2.     To create a resource to aid in recovery from HPS.

3.     To raise the question of whether automobile cabin air systems may be infection pathways.

–– Mark@hantasite.com

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