A Suffolk man has recovered from a suspected hantavirus infection, likely caused by exposure to mice while camping in the Adirondacks, Stony Brook University Hospital officials said Friday.
After spending four days in intensive care, Michael Vaughan, 72, of Stony Brook, was given the probable diagnosis. The rodent-borne disease is rare but potentially deadly.
"It was very scary," said Vaughan, a hiking enthusiast who works as a research associate professor at Stony Brook University.
Vaughan's lab tests have been sent to state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. Results are expected next week.
On Aug. 24, Vaughan said he and his wife, Keelin Murphy, 62, went on a hiking trip upstate near Mount Marcy, camping in a lean-to, a primitive wooden shelter.
Vaughan, who slept with his hands outside his sleeping bag, believes a mouse foraging for food bit his left thumb.
"I woke up with a pain in my finger . . . There was a little blood in my fingernail, and I said, 'Oh, a mouse must've bitten me,' " he said at a news conference at the hospital.
A month later, Vaughan said, he became ill. He suffered from nausea and headaches, and had difficulty breathing after climbing stairs.
Vaughan kept a previously scheduled appointment with his new primary-care doctor, who became concerned and ordered tests. On Sept. 28, the doctor called Vaughan and told him to get to the emergency room right away.
Placed in intensive care with pneumonia-liked symptoms, he said his treatment consisted mostly of rest, hydration and oxygen.
Dr. Roy Steigbigel, an infectious disease specialist who helped treat Vaughan, said the bite may only indicate the presence of mice -- and their droppings. "It may actually just tell us that he had proximity, and we should not conclude that the mechanism of transmission was a bite," the doctor said.
Rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. Humans are mainly infected when they breathe contaminated air.
There have been 602 hantavirus cases in the United States since records started being kept in the early 1990s, the CDC reported as of July 1. So far this year, there have been 15 cases.
Vaughan said he's not giving up hiking -- but he'll avoid sleeping in lean-tos. "I will stay in other places," he said.