Federal health officials are testing lung tissue from an Irvine man to determine if he contracted hantavirus while visiting New Mexico earlier this year. The virus has been blamed for 16 deaths in the Southwestern United States.
A blood test taken from George Wolff, 64, already has shown that he had the virus sometime in the past, his physician said Saturday. The physician, Dr. Gregory Robertson, added that Wolff had an unknown illness in April, but has fully recovered.
"It's a pretty high likelihood that it will be confirmed," Robertson said. "He was in the right neck of the woods and he had the illness."
On Friday, Robertson sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta tissue from a lung biopsy performed when Wolff was ill in April. The biopsy was carried out to help determine if that sickness was caused by the virus and was part of the outbreak that swept through Arizona and New Mexico last spring.
The virus is believed to be caused by dried deer mouse droppings, and is not transmitted through human contact, Robertson said. But he said federal officials also have asked for blood samples from Wolff's wife and their preschooler daughter to find out if they had the disease.
Tom Uram, director of the county's Health Care Agency, said Saturday he had been told by his staff there was one suspected case in Orange County, but did not know if it involved Wolff.
Two confirmed cases in California resulted in death.
Robertson, an internal medicine specialist who practices in Costa Mesa, said Wolff went to see him in early April with a high fever, cough and body aches. Robertson said he prescribed antibiotics.
Within a few days, Wolff's fever worsened and he became disoriented. He was admitted to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and spent the next nine days there as doctors attempted to figure out what was wrong. Since Robertson had earlier treated Wolff for kidney-related problems, doctors gave him a high dose of steroids.
It was not until Wolff went home--still not knowing what illness had struck him--that he found a newspaper article about the outbreak of the virus. Wolff then told his doctor that he had visited Albuquerque in March.
Robertson said he contacted local and federal health officials and took new samples of Wolff's blood, which identified that he had once contracted hantavirus.
In hindsight, Robertson said he wondered if the steroids had helped in the recovery, since "in all likelihood, the antibiotics are going to do more harm than good."