Saskatchewan

Grieving family warns others of rare but deadly hantavirus

As health officials in Saskatchewan issue their annual reminder about hantavirus, Julia McIsaac would like to spare other families the grief hers has experienced since her daughter died of the disease in June 2014.

Hantavirus is fatal for 1 in 3 people infected

Robyn Young was a healthy 26-year-old mother of two when she was infected with hantavirus in 2014. (Submitted by Julia McIsaac)

Robyn Young's family says the 26-year-old was sunshine personified — a radiant young mother with a smile for everyone.

She was the kindest person Julia McIsaac says she has ever known.

"Not because she's my daughter, but it's just the way she was," said McIsaac.

As health officials in Saskatchewan issue their annual reminder about hantavirus, McIsaac would like to spare other families the grief hers has experienced since her daughter died of the disease in June 2014.

"They really have to take this seriously," McIsaac said. "I don't want another family having to go through what we went through."

Healthy young mother

In the spring of 2014, Young was pregnant with her third child.

She and her husband were raising their two young children, 5 and 1, just outside the town of Milestone, Sask., about 55 kilometres south of Regina.

Young had been doing some spring cleaning, which included moving everything out of the garage and vacuuming it.

Robyn Young was living just outside Milestone, Sask. with her husband and two children. (Submitted by Julia McIsaac)

Mouse droppings in garage

Young told her husband that she had encountered a lot of mouse droppings while she was cleaning the garage.

That was something McIsaac had noticed some 18 months earlier, when she was cleaning the house before the family moved in.

"I cleaned everything through and I didn't even get sick," said McIsaac.

"Of course I wasn't even thinking about the hantavirus at the time. I didn't know anything about it at the time."

A few weeks after cleaning the garage, Young told her mother she had developed a rash and wasn't feeling well.

She said her family doctor had chalked the symptoms up to her pregnancy and sent her home.

Multiple trips to doctor 

But Young still wasn't feeling well, so she went back to see another doctor this time at emergency.

"Her heart was racing, she had fever," said McIsaac. "They dismissed it again...told her it was allergies and sent her on her way."

The next day, Young told her mom she was having difficulty breathing.

McIsaac told her to get back to the emergency room right away. "That's when things took a turn for the worse," said McIsaac.

Despite being given fluids and being placed on a ventilator, the young mother was dead within 24 hours of being admitted to the intensive care unit.

10 deaths in Saskatchewan since 1994

She was one of two people to die of hantavirus in Saskatchewan that year, and one of 10 in the past two decades.

Researchers with the Public Health Agency of Canada say there was a substantial increase in the number of cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome that year, and the year prior — perhaps because mild winters have led to an increase in the number of deer mice.

With no vaccine for the the virus, public education is key to its prevention.

Checklist for doctors required

McIsaac hopes doctors in western Canada — where all but one of the country's cases have occurred — get educated, along with their prospective patients.

She says a checklist for doctors in emergency rooms could help to yield a quicker diagnosis.

"Do you think you've been exposed? What were you doing, were you cleaning anything out? Bins or garages or whatever? Then they can take it from there," said McIsaac.

"Because I'm sure with Robyn, if that screening was in place, things could have probably been different. I don't know."

About the Author

Stefani Langenegger has been with CBC Saskatchewan for more than two decades. She covered provincial politics for more than 15 years, before joining The Morning Edition as host.