Officials say worker never hit by hantavirus

by Hannah Plotkin | 10/12/04 5:00am

The Dartmouth employee thought to be carrying the hantavirus in late September was falsely diagnosed, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services concluded recently.

The male employee, who remains unidentified, underwent an initial blood test that indicated he had the respiratory disease, but subsequent tests ruled out the illness as a possibility, state health officials said Monday.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not notify Dartmouth and made no public announcement of the finding. As of Monday, the College's Office of Public Affairs was unaware of the new development and had no plans to issue an official College press release with updated information, according to Public Affairs spokeswoman Sue Knapp.

Since the initial diagnosis, several College departments, including Environmental Health and Safety, have been taking steps to prevent further outbreaks.

State epidemiologist Dr. Jesse Greenblatt said he was not surprised to learn the patient did not have the serious respiratory illness, which is transmitted through infected rodents and can lead to pulmonary failure and fatality.

"The symptoms were never classic for hantavirus," Greenblatt said.

Typical indications of the disease include fever, muscle aches, dizziness and vomiting.

The College issued a press release and sent a campus-wide BlitzMail message on Sept. 30 announcing the suspected case of the disease, which the man had supposedly contracted during a late August stay at a cabin in the Second College Grant.

Various College departments, including the Outdoor Programs Office and EHS, responded by taking steps to prevent any future outbreaks and to educate locals about the disease's cause and symptoms.

EHS employees inspected and cleaned several cabins in the Grant over the weekend of Oct. 1. The team evaluated three cabins in question, removing all old pillows and blankets in an effort to discourage mice from nesting there.

Since the disease is not contagious, the plan was to look at hantavirus as a long-term issue rather than a pressing one, EHS director Michael Blayney said.

As of yesterday, EHS was unaware of the new development in the case.

The ill Dartmouth employee's current health and whereabouts are unknown, as the College declined to release his name. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center declined to comment on whether he was a patient there.