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Hantavirus Paranoia

James Nestler nestja at saturn.wwc.edu
Fri Jan 21 10:45:45 EST 1994

Please let me know if a better place exists to post this.

I don't work with viruses, but they sure have messed up my research lately!  
I study biochemical changes accompanying mammalian dormancy.  My mammalian 
model is the wonderful deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), which 
just so happens to be a major carrier of the hantavirus.  So my 
research is pretty much on hold while the CDC checks out the blood samples 
from my critters (administration got edgy when they heard I have "killer 
mice").  I actually catch my critters in the wild.  I doubt that any of the 
ones I have now are carrying the hantavirus; I was breathing their crap dust 
and getting bit for several months prior to the Four Corners breakout, and I 
ain't dead yet.  Now, of course, I am taking appropriate precautions (body 
suits, gloves, respirators, etc.).

I'm definitely paranoid about going into the field and catching more wild 
mice, though I need to for my research.  The last thing that I want to do is 
get myself killed (or any of my students) by some little piece of protein 
and RNA carried by a 20 g mouse.  How paranoid should I be?  What are the 
chances of catching the hantavirus from mice in the wild?  The same as 
getting struck by lightning?  I'm in Walla Walla (WHERE?) in southeast 
Washington.  A hantavirus death was recently confirmed in northern Idaho 
(about 200 miles from here).  Are my days of romping through the mountains 
and fields catching small mammals over?  Will I have to switch research 
organisms (GASP!!!)?

Any advice that you can give me would be greatly appreciated!

Jim Nestler
Dept. of Biological Sciences
Walla Walla College (the little college they loved so much that they named 
it twice)

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