By Matt Kroschel

DEL NORTE, Colo. (CBS4)– Public health officials confirmed that a man from Rio Grande County who had been exposed to hantavirus has died.

Co-workers told CBS4 on Wednesday that Mark Jones, a local Architect and Philanthropist who friends say is responsible for the recent downtown revitalization in Del Norte, died after being diagnosed with hantavirus.

“Speaking of Mark Jones he definitely has left a huge footprint on the town,” said Jones’ friend Kevin Haas. “I think the repercussions will be vast and I think we’ll feel it for a very long time.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The rare respiratory disease case is the second in the San Luis Valley this year. A Saguache County resident died from hantavirus exposure last month. Their deaths have prompted warnings from local health officials about the virus.

Another person exposed to the virus is recovering in Montrose County.

The illness is passed through exposure to deer mice or their droppings and nests.
The disease kills several people every year in Colorado, according to Rio Grande County Public Health Director Emily Brown.

Deer mice carry hantavirus (credit: cdphe.state.co.us)

Deer mice carry hantavirus (credit: cdphe.state.co.us)

“We want to remind our community to take precautions to reduce the chance of exposure to this virus,” said Brown.

“His presence was very important to this community,” said Haas.

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say exposure to hantavirus can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a rare but serious disease that is fatal for more than one-third of those people who become infected.

Mark Jones (credit: CBS)

Mark Jones (credit: CBS)

Additional Information from the CDC:

Hantavirus cannot spread from person to person. People are infected by breathing in the virus when stirring up dust from mouse nests or mouse droppings in areas with poor ventilation, or when handling or being bitten by mice.

People are at risk when going into closed spaces with rodent droppings, such as crawl spaces, attics, barns, outbuildings, and sheds, or when clearing wood piles where mouse droppings might be present.

In the San Luis Valley, the hantavirus is carried by deer mice, which have tawny backs, white bellies, big eyes and big ears. Typically, 10 to 15 percent of deer mice are infected, and it is not possible to tell if a mouse has the virus just by looking at it. Rodents and household pets do not get sick from the virus.

Symptoms of HPS:

Symptoms usually start from one week to six weeks after exposure. Initial symptoms are fatigue, fever, and muscle aches. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems such as nausea, vomiting, and chills. Four to ten days later, a dry cough and difficulty breathing may develop as the lungs fill with fluid. From this point, the illness can progress rapidly to respiratory failure or even death.
Because the disease can progress rapidly, it is important to seek medical care immediately if you develop fever, headache, and muscle pain within six weeks of exposure to mice or their droppings.

Reduce your risk:

Keep mice away from areas where you live and work. Store human food, pet food, and bird seed in lidded containers or securely closing cabinets. Use traps baited with peanut butter to remove rodents from indoor areas. Keep garbage in tightly-covered cans. Plug all holes (dime-sized or larger) in walls and around pipes and vents, using steel wool or metal sheeting. Repair window screens and make sure weather-stripping is tight under all doors, including pet doors. Store hay, wood and equipment above ground at least 100 feet from the house. Remove old cars, junk and brush piles from the yard.

Visit the CDC for further information about protecting yourself and your family from hantavirus.

Matt Kroschel covers news throughout Colorado working from the CBS4 Mountain Newsroom. Send story ideas to mrkroschel@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter @Matt_Kroschel.