February 8, 2016

For this young Native American honor student, life was far too hard and much too short.

A 17-year-old Navajo girl has died ofHantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a serious respiratory disease likely caused by contact with infected rodent droppings.

The teen, of Cameron, Arizona, died January 8, said Del Yazzie, an epidemiologist for the Navajo Epidemiology Center. She was seen at Tuba City Regional Health Care in Tuba City, Arizona, where doctors referred her to the University of New Mexico Hospital. She died en route to Albuquerque, Yazzie said. Officials in Coconino County, Arizona, and theArizona Department of Health Services independently confirmed the death.

An honor student, the girl lived in a dilapidated house with six other family members, and Yazzie believes various structural and social factors likely put the girl at higher risk of contracting the disease.

“A lot of it has it has to do with poverty and housing conditions,” he said. The Cameron area is part of the formerBennett Freeze, a 1.6-million-acre swath of Navajo land to the west of the Hopi Reservation. All development came to a halt in 1966 when then-Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett “froze” the area in response to longstanding disputes between the Navajo and Hopi.

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