Saskatchewan hantavirus survivor recalls long road to recovery

A hantavirus death in the province is bringing back unpleasant memories for a Saskatchewan woman who beat the debilitating and often fatal illness that's spread by deer mice.

Lorinda Ratzlaff says it felt like an eternity before she felt normal again

A hantavirus death in the province is bringing back unpleasant memories for a Saskatchewan woman who beat the debilitating and often fatal illness that's spread by deer mice.

Lorinda Ratzlaff says she contracted hantavirus while working at a friend's farm in Alberta in 2006. (Courtesy Lorinda Ratzlaff)

Lorinda Ratzlaff of St. Louis, Sask., contracted the virus eight years ago while cleaning her friend's farm in Alberta.

"There was mouse poop in the drawers, on the floor," she said. "Farm girl ... I just cleaned it, swept it, wiped it."

Hantavirus can cause a severe and often fatal lung infection known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

It starts off with flu-like symptoms, but can progress to vomiting, abdominal pain and severe difficulty breathing.

When Ratzlaff got sick, she started coughing up blood. She says her recovery was long and intense.

"It seems like an eternity. Every day you think 'Do I really need to take 15 pills and drink this bottle ... and is it actually helping?'" she said. 

"And it was literally six months to the day that I woke up and felt normal again."

A Saskatchewan woman died earlier this month of hantavirus, a rare, often fatal illness that's spread through the droppings and urine of deer mice. (CBC News )

The illness and recovery took a toll not just on her, but also on her family, she said.

"Well, it was very emotional, 'cause you didn't know if you were actually going to survive it, right? It affected your relationship, or my relationship. And my relationship with my daughter. And it was just a very stressful time."

Ratzlaff she's thankful she's still alive today.

The province says 27 people have contracted the virus in the last two decades. Nine have died.

Earlier this week, the province confirmed one person in southern Saskatchewan recently died of the disease, the first fatality of the year.

Health officials have provided few details about the case, although CBC has learned the victim was a 26-year-old mother of two.

Dr. Denise Werker, Saskatchewan's deputy chief medical health officer, said care must be taken when cleaning cabins, sheds, or garages that might have been infested with deer mice.

"People need to take the precautions, they need to be wearing gloves, goggles and masks," Werker said.

Also, she says, people should not just sweep or vacuum up the mess, they should wet it down first so dangerous particles don't fly into the air.

With files from Evan Radford


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