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COVID-19 delayed Arizona hantavirus investigation for 7 months

The coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed health care systems and slowed responses to other illnesses, especially respiratory viruses that resembled COVID-19.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  report describes one troubling example: an investigation of two Arizona hantavirus deaths that took place seven months too late.

Hantavirus spreads through the saliva, urine and feces of infected rodents.

Since its 1993 discovery in the Four Corners region, Arizona has seen more than 80 cases.

In March 2020, a mother and son living on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona — not the Four Corners — died from respiratory distress.

Despite X-rays suggesting hantavirus, their tissue samples did not reach CDC from the Arizona Department of Health services until mid-May.

With coronavirus testing taking priority, four more months passed before diagnosis, and another month before investigation. By then, it was too late to identify the source.

The authors recommended broadening hantavirus education and screening.

They also reiterated the importance of public health agencies continuing to monitor and respond to other pathogens during pandemics.

Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.