Nearly four months after my wife collapsed into hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, the first notice to the public was finally issued by the King County Health Department. This notice was issued because this site released the information and notified news outlets, particularly the Seattle Times (thank you to Bob Young) and so they had to act. Constrained resources, outbreaks of other, more common illnesses, and an excess of caution in issuing a caution all contributed to this delay.
Hantavirus is "flashy" as a threat, but is often drowned out in a sea of other disease and regarded as "extremely rare." That is only partially true. In fact, about 10% of deer mice carry hantavirus, and deer mice are the most common rodent in the U.S. Hantavirus is one of the most common viruses in the country, among mice. For some reason(s) unknown, it only rarely makes the jump to people. Hantavirus is continually mutating and changing. The rareness of that jump could change.
We have strong reasons to suspect that my wife was infected with hantavirus via the automobile cabin air system of her Toyota, Sienna. This common model of vehicle appears to be particularly prone to mouse infestation in a place where you would never know it, directly atop the cabin air filter. Many people don't know there is such a filter. They are usually hidden behind the glove box.
We had seen, and cleaned out, mouse nests that were sited directly in the vehicle's air system previously. I once spent the better part of a day trying to block off the air intake with screen, googling it to see if anyone else had come up with a way to do so. No one had an answer, many had frustrations with Toyota for unresponsiveness. I thought I had finally solved it, but, apparently, I didn't.
If you google some variation on "cabin air mouse" you will see many images of infestations, and a highly disproportionate number of those are from Toyota vehicles, without including that word in the search string. It has been suggested that bio-sourced polymers in Toyota wiring attracts them, and it is clear that for this model, at least, there is no proper screen or barrier to exclude animals from a very comfortable nesting site.
Take a look at the images in the three posts of mouse auto air infestations earlier this month. Many, many people have wrestled with this problem with little or no response from the automobile (and also tractor) manufacturers. It has also been repeatedly suggested that people should exercise caution about these because of the possibility of hantavirus infection.
That has always been hypothetical, until now. My wife nearly died from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome that was very probably acquired in her vehicle, via mouse activity atop her cabin air filter.
I checked and removed the cabin air filter while she was still intubated, right after I learned that they had tested her for hantavirus. I had driven the Sienna back and forth to the hospital several times in the preceding days. I found mouse debris, shelled maple seeds and some bedding type materials. I never rode in that vehicle without rolling down the windows and airing it out, because we had previously found mouse activity. My wife did the opposite, keeping them up, and blasting the defrost and heater. That difference probably nearly killed her.
I also found mouse debris atop the filter in my Honda Accord, so this is not a problem that is exclusive to Toyotas. The mouse "population explosion" that appears to have happened lately (see last post on hot spot) has led to them invading as their food supply now dwindles. There are a lot of Deer mice on our 2.5 acre lot, which is covered with Big Leaf maples that produced a massive seed crop last fall.
Anyone in the King County or adjacent areas that has Big Leaf maples should be particularly alert and should check your automobile or tractor cabin air filters!
btw: It is dismaying to read, again and again, that "mouse infestation" is the problem, because, as many other hantavirus survivors have noted, it suggests that we live in slums. More than half of all homes have had "mouse infestations" which means, only, that a mouse got in the house. We have two cats, Maya and Phoebe, who would not tolerate a living mouse for more than a couple hours.
Some links to the recent press coverage:
Bob Young's column on these cases and hantasite that broke loose activity from King Co.
I'm interviewed here and got in the cabin air filter issue:
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