Colorado hiker with coronavirus-like symptoms found to have rare, possibly life-threatening disease

Sue Ryan was convinced she was infected with the novel coronavirus. After all, her symptoms seemingly matched up: high fever, headaches, and muscle aches, to name a few. 

Ryan, of Bailey, Co., fell ill in October after hiking the Colorado Trail over the summer, according to her Oct. 25 Facebook post. She was tested for COVID-19 soon after experiencing symptoms but the results were negative, she told local news station KDVR. 

Of the 151 documented cases of the virus reported in Colorado since 1993, some 41 were fatal, according to UCHealth. (iStock)

Her symptoms worsened and Ryan went to a local hospital. 

“I had low oxygen. I went to the hospital, assumed I had COVID, again … negative,” Ryan said. In total, Ryan wrote on Facebook that she was tested for the novel virus three times, each time receiving a negative result. 

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After no improvement, Ryan again went to the hospital and was tested for several strains of the flu, but was found to have none. She then underwent imaging screenings. 

“I had weird, non-COVID-like CT scans — fluid around my lungs, fluid around my heart, and fluid between the cells in my lungs. All very ominous, but baffling because there was no apparent reason for those findings,” she said. 

A pulmonologist was then consulted, asking Ryan numerous questions about her hiking activities. She was subsequently tested for hantavirus, which came back positive. Finally, she had an answer. 

Hantavirus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, an “infectious disease characterized by flu-like symptoms that can progress rapidly to potentially life-threatening breathing problems,” according to the Mayo Clinic. The most common source of infections are rodents, “particularly the deer mouse,” said the clinic. Symptoms typically appear one to six weeks following exposure, according to UCHealth.

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These rodents often carry several types of hantaviruses that can cause the syndrome, and people can become infected when they breathe in air that’s been infected with hantaviruses from rodent urine or droppings. 

In the first stage of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, many patients experience flu-like symptoms, namely headaches and muscle aches, fever and chills, and vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain. Later stages of the illness can cause shortness of breath, low blood pressure, a cough that produces secretions, as well as fluid in the lungs and “reduced heart efficiency,” said the Mayo Clinic. 

“I had fluid around my lungs, fluid around my heart. Because it’s so rare, I was actually kind of blown away. I actually got this disease and didn’t die,” Ryan told the news outlet. 

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Indeed, of the 151 documented cases of the virus reported in Colorado since 1993, some 41 were fatal, according to UCHealth. 

“Wherever I got it, it was local, either on my property or on the [Colorado Trail] somewhere between Grant and Breckenridge. It has a 38% mortality rate. I was lucky,” she wrote on Facebook.

Ryan warned others to be wary of deer mice, which are “all over the place” in Colorado.  

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“Sheds, houses, all over outside, even at high altitude. Please read the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for cleaning any random mouse droppings you see. Do NOT vacuum or sweep them up, and you must wet them down with [a] disinfectant solution such as bleach. Wear a mask and gloves. You get infected from breathing in [the] virus from the droppings and urine,” she wrote on the social media platform. 

“I’m lucky to still be on the green side, and since I didn’t die I’ll recover completely in a few weeks,” she said in the Oct. 25 post. “Watch out for those cute little deer mice!”