Hantavirus (Hantavirus Adult Respiratory Syndrome)

Hantavirus adult respiratory syndrome is an acute viral infection caused by the Hantavirus. It is characterized by fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea followed by shock and respiratory failure. Many Hantaviruses have been recognized; the one responsible for the outbreak in the USA is called Sin Nombre virus.

The virus is harbored primarily by the deer mouse, but can be seen in pack rats and chipmunks as well.

Where does it occur?

The disease was first recognized in the four corners regions of the United States – (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado). Since then cases have been reported from Canada and South America.

How is it transmitted?

The infection is transmitted by inhalation of dust contaminated by mouse excretions.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is very rarely contagious from person to person, usually in intimate contacts.

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low; travelers living or working in dusty unventilated environments in regions affected are at higher risk.

How soon after exposure will I develop symptoms?

Initial symptoms usually develop about 2 weeks after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms begin quickly with fever, intense body aches, muscle pain, headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This is followed by dry cough and shortness of breath progressing to respiratory failure and shock. In severe cases bleeding from the mouth, intestines and urinary tract are seen. Individuals can quickly develop multiple organ failure and die.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Blood antibody tests (IgM) are diagnostic. The virus can be cultured from secretions with difficulty. On blood counts, platelets are characteristically low. Blood and tissue PCR tests are available.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment is primarily supportive care in intensive care units. The anti-viral antibiotic Ribavirin has been used with varying success. Heart-lung bypass machines have been used in severe cases to help deliver oxygen to tissues where respirators are ineffective.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Avoid living or working in rodent infected, dusty environments.

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