Michael Vaughan has taken many hiking trips in his life. But the trip he took late in August stands out from the rest for at least one reason: following that trip, he came down with hantavirus, a rare illness caused by contact with infected rodents.
Vaughan, 72, of Stony Brook, said he believes he was bitten by a mouse while he camped out in a lean-to on Aug. 26 in the Adirondacks. He said he may have had remnants of food on his hands – it's not easy to wash your hands well while in the outdoors, he said.
"I woke up with a sharp pain and there was a little bit of blood under my thumbnail," he said.
A few weeks later – that's within the incubation period of the virus – he said he began to feel some of the symptoms: nausea, shortness of breath, accelerated pulse, low appetite.
Dr. Rekha Sivadas, one of the infectious disease specialists who cared for Vaughan at the hospital, said there is no known treatment specifically for hantavirus.
"The most effective treatment is supportive care of the patient: Oxygen supplementation, monitoring the vital signs, replacement of IV solutions if needed, close monitoring for respiratory distress," she said.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and New York State track cases of hantavirus; the illness is so rare that only 11 to 48 cases were diagnosed per year nationwide since 1993, when documentation began. While Vaughan's case has not been confirmed by the state or the CDC yet, Sivadas said test results from a laboratory in Utah did show the presence of antibodies against hantavirus in his bloodstream.
Vaughan, who is a mineral physicist and professor at Stony Brook University, said he feels the CDC or the state should say something publicly about hantavirus if it’s confirmed.
"I think they should catch some of these mice and test for it," he said. "There are hundreds of these lean-tos in the Adirondacks."