Hanta hysteria unfounded
West Vancouver high school teacher Ted Pelly did not die of hantavirus.
That was the word out of the Coast Garibaldi Health Unit Wednesday as Environmental Health Officer Angie Spitz did her best to answer questions about a bizarre, deadly virus that was believed to have killed 48-year-old Pelly July 10.
The story sent waves of worry through the Whistler Valley as people started to realize how many deer mice — one carrier of the virus — actually call the nooks and crannies of Whistler home.
Spitz says she can't comment on Pelly's cause of death, but he did have a "history of heart problems" and the investigation is concentrating on that area.
Whistler residents have spent the past month searching corners for mouse feces — the primary carrier of virus. The virus is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a long-lost cousin of the infamous Ebola virus that killed 200 people in Kikwit, Zaire last spring. When Pelly mysteriously died July 10, small touches of hanta hysteria could be seen in Whistler. Humans can contract the virus by breathing in air contaminated by mouse feces, urine or saliva.
At least one local pest control company was advertising with the words "mice" and "virus" in the ad. There were only three confirmed cases of hantavirus in B.C. last year — two in the Okanagan and one in Williams Lake.
"It's a frightening disease because if you do get it your chances of dying are very high," Spitz says, adding the chances of contracting hantavirus are "minuscule." When humans contract the disease it is more of an "accident," she says.
The best precaution to take is to stay away from deposits of mouse droppings, taking care not to stir up dust in cabins that have remained closed and unoccupied for some time.
In the meantime, Spitz says the best way to deal with Hantavirus is not to worry about it, as the risk of contracting the disease is so small.
"We're certainly not seeing a rash of cases… the numbers definitely aren't on the increase, because we have no cases in this area," she says.