NY Travel Clinic

Hantavirus – Background, Symptoms and Prevention

Hantaviruses are RNA viruses, transmitted to humans by rodents. The virus was first identified in 1993 in the Four Corners area of the south-western US. At that time, it was found that the virus was transmitted by rodent urine, feces, saliva and by airborne particles containing these items.

Infection with Hantavirus can often progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) and can be fatal. HPS is the late stage of infection with a Hantavirus subtype. In this stage, patients can experience lung congestion, fluid and accumulation in the lungs and shortness of breath. Approximately 38 percent of patients with HPS die. Some early symptoms of HPS include fever, fatigue and muscle aches.

Hantaviruses live their lifecycle in rodents and are harmless at this stage. However, they multiply and shed in the rodent’s urine, feces and saliva. According to a study, 15 percent of all deer mice tested positive for hantavirus. The deer mouse is also the source of most HPS infections by other rodents also can carry a different hantavirus subtype.

There is no specific treatment for HPS and no vaccine available to prevent hantavirus infection or HPS. Diagnosed patients are treated in an intensive-care facility and may require respiratory support. Patients who survive from HPS do not suffer from any long-term complications.

Nearly every infected person exhibits these symptoms. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headaches, chills and dizziness. Late symptoms of HPS include coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath and generally occur about four to ten days after the early symptoms.

The hantavirus infection can be contracted through contact with hantavirus-infected rodents or their urine and droppings. The primary strategy for preventing hantavirus infection is rodent control in and around the home. The primary risk factor for HPS is association with rodents or with their saliva, urine, feces or with dust, dirt or surfaces contaminated with these items. Risk areas include any barns, sheds, homes or buildings that are easily entered by rodents. Areas with large forests and fields can support a large rodent population and can increase the risk of exposure to HPS.