A homemaker whose death a year ago baffled doctors was a victim of hantavirus, state public health officials confirmed.
Leeann Strunk, 39, of Cresco, died March 13, 1997, at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg. She is now the first person in Pennsylvania known to fall victim to the rare pneumonia-like disease.The disease is contracted by ingesting airborne dust particles of the feces, urine or saliva of tiny deer mice. A family spokesman said Strunk lived in a rural area where deer mice are common.
Dr. Andre Weltman, a public health physician in the state Department of Health's Division of Communicable Diseases, confirmed Thursday that the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta diagnosed the disease in tissue samples taken from Strunk in an autopsy.
The case had baffled doctors until a hunter, Robert Hillegass II of Trexlertown, died in November in what authorities thought was the state's first case of hantavirus.
After his death, Dr. Luther Rhodes, chief of infectious diseases at Lehigh Valley Hospital, asked doctors to examine their records for similar cases.
Dr. Samuel Land, a Bethlehem forensic pathologist, remembered performing Strunk's autopsy and had saved the tissue samples.
Hantavirus had not been identified in the United States until a 1993 outbreak in the Southwest, primarily among young Navajos in the Four Corners area.