What Is Hantavirus?
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is rare in the US and the chances of becoming infected are low; only 20--50 cases of HPS have been confirmed annually in the United States since the disease was described in 1993. However, HPS is potentially deadly and immediate care is essential once symptoms appear.
Hantavirus is not contagious from person to person in the United States. Rodents, such as mice and rats, carry the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are experienced by everyone who contracts the disease. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills and/or abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms. Symptoms may develop between 1 and 5 weeks after exposure to potentially infected rodents and their droppings. Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid.
How is Hantavirus treated?
This disease is caused by a virus, so antibiotics are not effective.
At the present time, there is no specific treatment for hantavirus infection. If you have been around rodents and have symptoms of fever, deep muscle aches and severe shortness of breath, see your doctor immediately. Be sure to tell your doctor that you have been around rodents—this will alert your physician to look closely for any rodent-carried disease such as HPS. If infected individuals are recognized early and are taken to an intensive care unit, the earlier, the better, they are more likely to survive. If a patient is experiencing full distress, it is less likely the treatment will be effective.
How do people catch this disease?
Hantavirus is not contagious from person to person in the United States. Hantaviruses are carried by rodents, especially the deer mouse. You can become infected by exposure to their droppings. Human infection occurs most commonly through the inhalation of aerosolized saliva or excreta. Hantavirus infection has been associated with the following situations:
- Increasing numbers of rodents in human dwellings;
- Occupying or cleaning previously vacant cabins or other dwellings that are actively infested with rodents;
- Cleaning barns and other outbuildings;
- Disturbing excreta or rodent nests around the home or workplace;
- Keeping captive wild rodents as pets;
- Handling equipment or machinery that has been in storage;
- Disturbing excreta in rodent-infested areas while hiking or camping;
- Sleeping on the ground.