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Hantavirus Cases Confirmed in Southwest Kansas

The Associated Press
ELKHART -- A southwest Kansas man who died of Hantavirus last week was from rural Morton County in far southwest Kansas, health officials said.

It was Morton County's third death from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in the last decade. The state has recorded six fatal cases of Hantavirus since 1993. Of the 18 confirmed hantavirus cases since 1993, at least 14 were diagnosed in southwest Kansas residents.

"It's pretty much here to stay in this part of the state," said Joan Bolin, administrator of public health for the Morton County Health Department. "We are considered a frontier county."

Jeff Mills, 39, who lived with his family near Rolla, died last Thursday at Morton County Hospital in Elkhart.

Larry Mills, Jeff Mills' brother and principal of Norton Junior High School, said he and other family members had been down to see Jeff Mills' wife, Carrie Mills, who came down with symptoms of the virus a week earlier and was admitted to St. Catherine Hospital.

Carrie Mills recovered, but her husband was hospitalized the next week and died within days.

The Millses were thought to have contracted the virus while working outside a woodpile and in a building where mice might have been living. Morton County is in far southwest Kansas, bordering both Colorado and Oklahoma.

The illness, which came to prominence in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest during 1993, causes the lungs to fill with fluid and can affect the heart.

Hantavirus is contracted from rodents, commonly when particles of infected saliva, urine or droppings are inhaled. Watson said the particles can be stirred up in dust from old burrows.

Specific rodents are known carriers and transmitters of the virus, particularly deer mice. People cannot transmit the virus to one another.

There is no cure for hantavirus, but early intensive care can help patients survive the worst of the symptoms. Precautions against the illness include heavy use of disinfectant on any suspected mouse droppings and any dead mice found, as well as simple actions to discourage mice from settling near homes and sheds.