What you need to know about this virus, which is spread by rodents.

Sarah Klein
April 27, 2018

A New Mexico woman died last week from a rare virus after spending weeks on life support. The 27-year-old mom, Kiley Lane, was initially thought to have an intestinal blockage and then the flu before she was tested for hantavirus, which is typically spread through rodents.

Lane first spoke to doctors about nausea and stomach pain in January, People reported, and was given laxatives to treat what was thought to be an intestinal blockage. But after she developed difficulty breathing, her husband encouraged her to return to the hospital. “Our family doesn’t really go to the doctor a lot, but in this particular case, her husband just had the gut instinct that they didn’t need to wait around and he took her into the ER pretty quickly,” Lane’s mother Julie Barron told People in February.

Lane was placed on a ventilator and tested for a handful of diseases including hepatitis, pneumonia, and the flu as her condition worsened. Doctors finally tested her for the rare hantavirus; results came back positive on February 5. She was then flown to an Albuquerque ICU and placed on a form of life support. “They just want her to get better and she is improving,” Barron said at the time. “But they think she needs to be improving a little bit faster.”

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Barron was optimistic about taking Lane’s condition in February. But last Wednesday, she “died peacefully on her own,” Barron wrote on Facebook. A YouCaring page originally set up to help defray the costs of Lane’s care was updated to announce her death. "Kiley Rianna Terrell Lane left this world and joined her Heavenly Father peacefully on April 18th surrounded by her loving husband, mother, sister, and family. Kiley courageously fought a battle to survive a deadly virus for weeks.”

courtesy of Julie Barron

Hantavirus is extremely rare: There have been just 728 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It spreads to people through contact with infected mice and rats, or their saliva or droppings.

The infection can then progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which causes fatigue, fever, muscles aches, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms easily mistaken for the flu. As in Lane’s case, HPS can progress and cause shortness of breath. Nearly 40% of people who develop HPS die from the disease, according to the CDC. The condition is typically treated with ventilation and blood oxygenation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

No one is quite sure how Lane contracted hantavirus. Tests of rodent droppings near her home were negative, USA Today reported.

To prevent the spread of hantavirus, the Mayo Clinic recommends taking careful measures to make sure rodents don’t have access to your home. Seal up holes and clear away brush or garbage that might become nesting spots. Set traps if necessary, and make sure food isn’t within easy reach of rodents.

If you do spot a mouse or rat, disinfect the area with household cleaners. Consider wearing a respirator if you’re cleaning an area with a serious rodent infestation; inhaling the virus is the main route of transmission to humans, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There will be an “informal gathering to toast the life and gifts from Kiley’s bright life” on Saturday, Barron recently wrote on Facebook. “I’ve had pain before, and I am accepting that as before, this is not going to be easy,” she also posted. “It’s always going to suck. I will miss that laugh every day, and all of this sadness is going to be with us... but.... we can go on. We will, and we can.”

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Part of going on means raising awareness of hantavirus in hopes of sparing other lives. “Please share Kiley's story with others,” reads the family's YouCaring page. "Ask questions about hantavirus. Continue the dialogue about this terrible virus, which is feared to be more prevalent than fully understood. If one person is tested early and avoids the pain and agony Kiley endured, it is a life positively impacted.” Barron tells Health today: “Every person needs an advocate to ask questions and be part of any treatment."

Connecting with others has been a comfort, Barron tells Health. “One of the healthiest things that has come from this is the healing power of human friendship, and support. Kiley was a nice person, and she made people feel good through humor. I can’t think of anything healthier than that type of love.”