The New York Department of Health is currently investigating the death of a Belmont Park worker that was found unconscious at the park premises early in June. Is there cause for park visitors to worry about their health and safety?
Belmont Park Worker’s Death
On June 1, an unnamed employee was found unconscious outside the housing unit at the Belmont Park backstretch. The patient was immediately rushed to the hospital but died days later on June 6. This week, the New York Department of Health announced that it is investigating on the death of the patient, as it may be linked to the rare rodent-borne illness, hantavirus.
Evidently, preliminary findings from laboratory results sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the patient may have died due to hantavirus as a result of exposure to rodent excretions at an area in the park that is not open to the public. Based on these findings, the Department of Health investigated on 78 residential cottages and dormitories at the Belmont Park, and made several suggestions on health and safety practices.
As a precaution, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has relocated its employees, and has agreed to overhaul its pest control practices. The NYRA also extended the clinic hours of the on-site medical clinic.
Should Visitors Worry?
According to the New York Department of Health, park visitors have no reason to worry about contracting the disease as it is very rare. In fact, since 1993 until 2017, there have only been 728 cases of hantavirus reported to the CDC, and only five of which are from New York.
The agency further states that visitors to the park are not in danger of contracting the virus as the area in which the victim was exposed is not an area that is open to the public. It is also not a virus that can be transmitted from human to human, and is easily killed with household disinfectants and exposure to UV rays.
“This virus has not, and will not, impact the public visiting Belmont Park. We are redoubling our prior efforts to address appropriate rodent control measures throughout all backstretch facilities. In addition, NYRA is adopting and implementing all of New York State’s recommendations,” said the NYRA in a statement.
Hantavirus is a rare rodent-borne infection that is caused by a virus in rodent excretions such as feces, urine, and saliva. The most common way that the virus is passed on from wild rodent to human is through aerosolized excretions that the human breathes in, or when the human touched the nose or mouth after handling infected objects. As mentioned, the virus is not spread from person to person.
To minimize the possibility of infection, people should not touch live or dead wild rodents or their nests, and should avoid leaving pet food in dishes as this may attract rodents. When sleeping outdoors, it is best not to sleep near woodpile or garbage areas, and to inspect the location for rodent droppings and burrows first to ensure that the location is not infested with rodents.