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Thu, Jan 25, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Hantavirus confirmed as cause of Hualien deaths


The Center for Disease Control (疾病管制局), under the Department of Health, confirmed this week that the hantavirus (漢他病毒) was the cause of the sudden and mysterious deaths of a Hualien couple, Wu Mu-kuei (吳木桂) and his wife Huang Hsueh-chiao (黃雪嬌).

After nine days of investigating, Tu Hsing-che (涂醒哲), director-general of the center, confirmed the cause of death on Monday.

On Jan. 17, doctors at Taipei's Veterans General Hospital said that Wu, his wife and his 16-year old daughter Wu Hsin-yen (吳欣燕) might have been poisoned with tellurium (), a metallic element. The wife died on Jan. 13 and her husband the following day. The daughter remains hospitalized.

According to Tu, this was the first locally isolated incident of hantavirus infection, raising alarm over the rodent-borne disease. "The victims most likely contracted the virus by inhaling dust that contained excretions from rats that carried the virus," Tu said.

Past incidents of the hantavirus infection involved patients who had returned from trips to China shortly before becoming ill. Since the Hualien family had not been abroad, the source of their infection must be local.

Tu said that the hantavirus does not spread from person to person but rather through contaminated rat excretion. From the 12 rats caught in the residence of the Hualien family, the health department determined that one carried the virus.

"To verify the exact strain of the virus, however, would require further analysis," Tu added.

Hantavirus can cause illnesses of varying degrees of severity, ranging from a mild form of flu to respiratory or kidney failure. Symptoms of the virus can include fever, body fatigue, sore muscles, nausea and stomachaches.

What to look for

* Hantavirus can be spread through contact with contaminated rat feces. Contact could include inhaling contaminated dust.

* It is not spread from person to person.

* Symptoms may include fever, body fatigue, sore muscles, nausea and stomachache.

* In severe infections, the victim may develop a syndrome that causes a large depletion of blood cells which can result in death.

Source: Taipei Times

In the more severe infections, a patient may develop hemophagocytic syndrome, a rare and highly fatal disease that causes a large depletion of blood cells and usually kills the victim within one to seven days, doctors said.

After examining 175 relatives and friends of the deceased couple, health department officials did not find any new cases of the virus.

Despite assurances that the public can remain at ease about the outbreak, the health department added that it would test any rodents caught, killed and sealed in a plastic bag, and reminded the public to don gauze masks to avoid inhaling any dust.

Meanwhile, Hualien health department chief Huang Chih-kai (黃熾楷) yesterday reiterated his appeal to all local residents to clean their houses during the holidays in order to avoid further cases.

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