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Second hantavirus death reported in Montana

By CURT WOODWARD, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (May 20, 6:53 p.m. PDT) - A second person in Montana has died from hantavirus in the last two weeks, health officials said Tuesday.

Laurel Riek, a spokeswoman for the city-county health department in Helena, said officials were investigating how the 29-year-old man contracted the disease.

It is the third reported hantavirus case in the state since May 8 and the first ever in Lewis and Clark County, where the state capital is located, officials said.

"These three cases in two weeks are the first case reports since the fall of 2001. We've never had back-to-back cases like this either," said Jim Murphy with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

A 26-year-old Cascade County woman died of hantavirus on May 8 and a Dillon man in his 60s tested positive for the virus Friday. That man was released from a hospital and was expected to recover fully.

The victims in the earlier cases apparently contracted the virus from rodents in their homes, officials said.

Saturday's death is the 20th case of the disease in Montana and the fifth death in the state since hantavirus first appeared in 1993.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a severe respiratory infection spread by rodent urine, feces or saliva. People typically become sick about two weeks after breathing virus particles stirred up in a rodent-infested space.

The flu-like symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, chills, muscle and body aches, cough, nausea, headache, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

No cure for the disease has been developed, but it is treated by hospitalizing patients and putting them on a respirator. It is not considered contagious from person to person in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.