Hantavirus: Symptoms, causes, treatment & prevention

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Hantavirus

Hantavirus also known as  orthohantavirus or Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a single-stranded, enveloped, negative-sense RNA virus in the Hantaviridae family of the order Bunyavirales. These viruses normally infect rodents, but do not cause disease in them. Humans may become infected with hantaviruses through contact with rodent urine, saliva, or feces. Hantaviruses in the Americas are known as “New World” hantaviruses and may cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Other hantaviruses, known as “Old World” hantaviruses, are found mostly in Europe and Asia and may cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).

It is an infectious disease characterized by flu-like symptoms that can progress rapidly to potentially life-threatening breathing problems.

There are different hantaviruses, with a different geographical distribution and causing different clinical diseases. Each hantavirus is specific to a different rodent host. Transmission of the virus to humans occurs through the inhalation of infected rodent urine, droppings, or saliva.

Three main clinical syndromes can be distinguished after hantavirus infection: haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), mainly caused by Seoul, Puumala and Dobrava viruses; nephropathia epidemica, a mild form of HFRS caused by Puumala virus; and hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome, which may be caused by Andes virus, Sin Nombre virus, and several others. There is no curative treatment for hantavirus infection, and eliminating or minimising contact with rodents is the best way to prevent infection.

History of Hanatvirus

Hantavirus was first identified in Canada in 1994. When researchers reviewed other earlier cases, they were able to positively identify that there were at least 3 other cases occurring before 1994, the first happening in 1989. Since 1989, there have been 109 confirmed hantavirus cases and 27 deaths in Canada according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (as of January 2015).

Mode of transmission

Hantaviruses are transmitted to people primarily through the aerosolization of viruses shed in infected rodents’ droppings, urine or saliva. Aerosolization occurs when a virus is kicked up into the air, making it easy for you to inhale.

Mechanism of action of the virus

After you inhale hantaviruses, they reach your lungs and begin to invade tiny blood vessels called capillaries, eventually causing them to leak. Your lungs then flood with fluid, which can trigger any of the respiratory problems associated with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Read Also: Legionnaires’ disease – Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

This disease advances through two distinct stages. In the first stage, you may experience flu-like signs and symptoms that may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain

Based on the above symptoms, it is distinguish this disease from influenza, pneumonia or other viral conditions. After 4 – 10 days, more-serious signs and symptoms begin. They typically include:

  • A cough that produces secretions
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid accumulating within the lungs
  • Low blood pressure
  • Reduced heart efficiency

Risk factors

Occupational risk factors

People involve in these tasks are at high risk of contacting the virus; task like:

  • Sweeping out a barn and other ranch buildings.
  • Trapping and studying mice.
  • Using compressed air and dry sweeping to clean up wood waste in a sawmill.
  • Handling grain contaminated with mouse droppings and urine.
  • Entering a barn infested with mice.
  • Planting or harvesting field crops.
  • Occupying previously vacant dwellings.
  • Disturbing rodent-infested areas while hiking or camping.
  • Living in dwellings with a sizable indoor rodent population.

For workers that might be exposed to rodents as part of their normal job duties, employers are required to comply with relevant occupational health and safety regulations in their jurisdiction. Typically, employers are required to develop and implement an exposure control plan to eliminate or reduce the risk and hazard of Hantavirus in their workplace.

 

Other risk factors

Other factors and activities that increase the risk include:

  • Opening and cleaning long unused buildings or sheds
  • Housecleaning, particularly in attics or other low-traffic areas
  • Having a home or workspace infested with rodents
  • Having a job that involves exposure to rodents, such as construction, utility work and pest control
  • Camping, hiking or hunting, etc.

Can Hantavirus be transmitted from person to person?

It have been evidence of person to person transmission in some strains of the virus while other strains tend to be non-contagious. For example,  people who become infected with the North American strain of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome aren’t contagious to other people, but certain outbreaks in South America have shown evidence of being transmitted from person to person.

Diagnosis

The disease is easily detected through blood screening to see if the body has made antibodies to it.

Hantavirus treatment

There is no specific vaccine, treatment or cure for Hantavirus infection but early recognition and medical care in an intensive care unit can help with recovery. Infected people may be given medication for fever and pain and oxygen therapy.

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Hantavirus preventive measures

Key to preventing the disease is to keep rodents out of your home and workplace. One of the easiest way to keep rodent out of your home is to block all possible access they may use.

Other preventive actions are:

  • Store food, water and garbage in heavy plastic or metal containers with tight fitting lids.
  • Cut back thick brush and keep grass short, also keep woodpiles away from the building.
  • Use rubber or plastic gloves when cleaning up signs of rodents, handling dead rodents, or other materials.  When finished, clean gloves with soapy water before taking them off. Wash hands with soapy water (again) after removing the gloves.

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