Palacios man contracts rare virus, expected to recover

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

Sept. 28, 2013 at 4:28 a.m.
Updated Sept. 29, 2013 at 4:29 a.m.

Craig Slaughter, of Palacios, uses his walker to move around St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston after a rare hantavirus infection.

Craig Slaughter, of Palacios, uses his walker to move around St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston after a rare hantavirus infection.

Craig Slaughter, 47, forgot to bring his bedding on a fishing trip with his buddies near Port O'Connor on Aug. 1.

So he brushed rat droppings aside and slept on sheets in an old bay house - a decision that nearly turned fatal.

The El Campo insurance agent who lives in Palacios contracted hantavirus and developed symptoms of both hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome.

Since the virus was initially identified in 1993, only 616 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome have been reported in the United States through 2012. Of those, 37 were in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mice and rats shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva, and it spreads when people breathe infected air. Researchers also believe the virus is transmitted when people touch something infected with the virus and then touch their noses or mouths, according to the center.

Symptoms tend to appear one to five weeks after exposure to the virus. Thirty-six percent of all reported cases have resulted in death, according to the center.

Slaughter did not feel well after his trip in early August, but the fever and chills did not arrive for another week.

He used Motrin to control his symptoms intermittently.

Before his chills turned to quakes and his sweat left him drenched, he fished on the beach in Matagorda, moved his oldest daughter to San Marcos for her sophomore year at Texas State University and floated down a river.

When he began to cough, his wife drove him to a Bay City clinic, where the doctor prescribed an antibiotic for a sinus infection. But his hacking continued.

Tina Slaughter is a registered nurse and director of surgery for Matagorda Regional Medical Center in Bay City.

After discussions with a nurse practitioner about her husband's condition, she delivered him to her hospital's emergency room.

Chest X-rays showed an atypical type of pneumonia, and questioning led to a hantavirus theory.

On Aug. 21, doctors sent Slaughter to St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston by helicopter. He arrived in severe respiratory distress.

"I'm so proud of my hospital," Tina Slaughter said. "They did an awesome job treating him and getting him where he needed to be."

The virus affected every major organ in Slaughter's body.

"I was signing another consent form every time I turned around," his wife said.

Slaughter was on dialysis, a ventilator, monitoring lines and a heart and lung machine. He developed a blood clot in his left leg, which was corrected.

Doctors said they had done all they could do and told Slaughter's family to pray.

Slowly, each organ began to regain its function.

But irreversible damage was done. All the toes on his left foot must be amputated next month.

Slaughter hopes to return home Wednesday from St. Luke's Hospital.

Doctors expect three to six months to pass before he is back to normal. Long-term damage to his lungs cannot be determined for at least a year.

A doctor who saw Slaughter when he arrived at the hospital dropped by during a recent rehabilitation session.

"He said Craig looked great, and they thought he was a goner," Tina Slaughter said. "They're calling him the save of the year."



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