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Health Department: Montauk Man Died After Breathing In Fumes From Mice Droppings

Only 568 Cases Of Extremely Rare Hantavirus Found In U.S. Since 1993
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(credit: D. Loren Ketai, M.D./CDC)

(credit: D. Loren Ketai, M.D./CDC)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – State and local health officials have confirmed a Montauk man died last week of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Hantavirus is a lung infection caused by a microbe sometimes found in urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. Humans can become infected by inhaling the microscopic particles.

The state Department of Health, Suffolk County Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 35-year-old David Hartstein’s death appears to be an isolated case.

On Thursday Heather Hartstein held a memorial service for her beloved husband.

“He was kind-hearted. He was a gentle soul. He was a healer,” she told CBS 2’s John Slattery.

David Hartstein was married with three young children and a Montauk chiropractor. Health officials said he had been cleaning the basement of his home in Montauk and apparently breathed in the virus from mouse droppings.

“It’s spread by rodent feces, urine and saliva. Those materials, if they get aerosolized, become part of the air we breathe into the lungs, causing infection,” said Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken. “People should not be afraid because this is not a disease that is transmitted from human to human, or through dogs and cats. They should be careful when they clean areas that they think are rodent infested.”

The disease is fatal in 38 percent of all cases, but it’s so rare there have been only four in New York in the past 17 years. Health officials said the virus was first identified in the Southwest in 1993. Nationwide, there have been only 568 cases.

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Symptoms of hantavirus include high fever, muscle aches, coughing and headache — which may appear between one and five weeks after exposure to the virus.

Health officials said the best way to prevent exposure to hantavirus is to avoid contact with rodent droppings or urine, prevent infestation in the home and set traps inside empty containers to prevent contact with possibly contaminated materials.

“Wear gloves and a mask and aerate where you are,” Heather Hartstein said.

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