National News

Hantavirus Was Not the Cause of Belmont Park Worker’s Death

Posted June 24, 2018 8:14 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2018 8:17 p.m. EDT

The death of a worker at the Belmont Park racetrack this month was the result of bacterial sepsis, not hantavirus, a rat-borne illness that was initially suspected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After the man collapsed on June 1 on the track grounds beside the ramshackle employee housing run by the New York Racing Association, and died less than a week later, state health officials suspected hantavirus. A commercial laboratory found the man, whose name has not been released publicly, tested positive for hantavirus antibodies, according to the New York state Health Department. But subsequent testing by the CDC concluded that sepsis, a bacterial infection of the blood, was the true cause of the man’s death; the results were released Friday.

Hantavirus is primarily contracted by breathing air contaminated with rat feces and urine. Inspectors and epidemiologists for the Health Department who arrived last week at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, found signs of the vermin, as well as bedbugs, in the squalid cottages and barracks where the grooms and tack are housed. The department has ordered the relocation of 32 workers.

“We were left with severe concerns with the conditions that were found upon inspection that still leave us with the possibility of rodent-borne diseases, regardless of the cause of this poor individual’s death,” said Brad Hutton, the department’s deputy commissioner for public health.

The New York Racing Association has begun the cleanup, patching holes where rats travel unimpeded into the workers’ quarters, securing refuse and feed bins.

“NYRA is committed to modernizing backstretch facilities at Belmont Park to support the health and well-being of the backstretch community,” Patrick McKenna, a spokesman for the racing association, said in an email. “NYRA will continue to address pest-control measures throughout Belmont Park and will implement all of New York state’s recommendations.”