Hantavirus victim Hugh Williams recovering from weeklong coma
After spending six days at Tahoe Forest Hospital in critical condition with the deadly hantavirus, a Truckee man is at home recovering.
Hugh Williams, a 43-year-old real estate broker and developer who has lived in the area for 25 years, said he went to the hospital July 10 after enduring what he called flu-like symptoms for several days. Shortly thereafter, his respiratory system failed.
“I had nine IVs and a ventilator tube in me all at once,” Williams said. “I was lucky enough that the doctors on duty and the intensive care unit nursing staff at the hospital saved my life.”
North American hantavirus – which is carried by deer mice in their urine, droppings and saliva and is transmitted to humans when they breathe air contaminated with the virus – produces a variety of symptoms, including body aches, dizziness, lethargy, respiratory difficulty and fever, which rapidly progress into respiratory failure.
Williams said he was in a medically induced coma for about one week as hospital staff worked to save his life.
“My family was assembled by the doctors because of the likelihood that I might die,” he said. “I am really lucky.”
His first follow-up visit with doctors is scheduled Thursday, but Williams said he feels fine.
“Originally they thought I was going to be an invalid,” he said after walking into an interview at the Sierra Sun. “They thought I would be bed-ridden for a few months.”
Nevada County health department officials said he probably came into contact with the rare disease in the Washoe Valley near Reno while sweeping out a camper shell stored there during the winter. Williams, who describes himself as an avid outdoorsman, said it could have happened at any number of places.
“I was under a house in Soda Springs, I had been in some huts in Tahoe Donner, I was camping at Webber Lake and I was fishing along the Truckee River,” Williams said. “It could have been anywhere and we will never know.”
Nevada County Public Health Director Herbert Giese said the virus probably came from the camper in the Washoe Valley, but it didn’t infect Williams until he returned to Truckee.
Williams swept out the camper shell before spraying it with disinfectant, Giese said, which caused mouse droppings containing the virus to become airborne. Once in the air, the contaminated oxygen molecules were inhaled by Williams.
But Williams believes he contracted the virus hiking in the Truckee area. He said investigators found no evidence of hantavirus in his camper.
Williams’ case is the second documented in Nevada County and he is one of five survivors of 10 reported cases in California to date. According to Giese, 159 cases, including Williams, have been reported in 26 states in the U.S. since 1993.
The last documented case of hantavirus in Truckee was 1995 when Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency employee Del Williams allegedly became infected after relocating a TTSA workshop. He also survived after being diagnosed two weeks later at St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno.
According to medical experts, two unusual characteristics of the illness include its tendency to plague young adults (the average age of all infected is 35) and its mortality rate, which exceeds 50 percent of reported cases.
In Truckee, Giese said the infection control nurse at Tahoe Forest Hospital sent notice to hospital staff, including emergency room and intensive care unit personnel, describing symptoms and treatments for the deadly disease.
“They are all on the lookout for it,” Giese said. “This is a disease if diagnosed and treated early, you can survive.”
Blood drive for daughter
Williams, whose daughter Jesse suffers from Evan’s Syndrome – a rare blood disease that destroys blood platelets, said he did feel fortunate to recover in time to attend Jesse’s blood drive Friday, July 25.
Jesse needs a bone marrow match to recover from her blood disorder and the blood drive takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Tahoe Forest Hospital Medical Building lobby.
“(The virus) seemed to pass in time,” Williams said. “It is coincidental in that it happened and that it happened and I recovered in time to not miss a step with the transplant drive.”
When asked if his brush with death would keep him out of the woods, Williams said he has already planned a camping trip in August.
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