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A Price woman who cleaned mouse droppings from a bedroom in early June has become Utah's first confirmed victim of the deadly hantavirus.

Around the middle of June, Dana Jensen came down with flu-like symptoms of the respiratory distress syndrome that has killed dozens nationwide in the past two years. She was admitted to Castle View Hospital, Price, on June 17 and died June 19.According to Shelley Lancer, communicable disease specialist with the Utah Health Department Bureau of Epidemiology, the disease has been confirmed in approximately 80 Americans since early last year, and 43 of them have died.

Relatives said Jensen, 27, was a Price resident with sons who are 6 and 8 years old.

Garn Angott, director of the Southeastern Utah Health District, Price, refused to identify Jensen by name. But he added that the woman's "family members were asked to have blood drawn and the state will be testing for antibodies to see if they were infected."

She was probably exposed two weeks before the symptoms appeared, when she cleaned her home. "There were a number of mice in her home and she was cleaning out mouse droppings. We believe that was how she got it," he said.

"When she came down with the symptoms, the physician who was treating did suspect hantavirus, did contact the State Department of Health. CDC (the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta) was involved, but it wasn't until yesterday that it was confirmed," Angott said Thursday.

Experts from the CDC obtained blood and tissue samples from Jensen. These, and the symptoms, allowed them to make the diagnosis.

Angott thinks the Price area is no more at risk for hantavirus than other parts of the state. The first cases of the disease were reported in the Four Corners area of New Mexico last spring, but some experts believe it is likely that hantavirus has been present for many years - just not recognized until recently.

In the past, many unexplained cases of respiratory distress killed people. It may be that a large number of these were caused by the hantavirus.

Since last year's outbreak, deer mice were found to be the main carriers of the disease. The mice range through most of Utah.

They are believed to spread the hantavirus to humans through urine, saliva, feces and nesting materials. People can breathe in the virus when cleaning infected leavings.

"People should treat all rodents as if infected," Angott said.

"They should treat all rodent droppings as infected. If they clean out around their house they should spray down the rodent droppings first . . . to prevent it from getting in the air."

The CDC recommends using a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water for this. Use gloves when cleaning and bag the residue, Angott advised.

Meanwhile, the disease is extremely rare and not a cause for anyone to panic, he added.