Hantavirus is a family of viruses that primarily infect rodents and can cause diseases in humans. These viruses are part of the Bunyaviridae family and are primarily transmitted to people through contact with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva.
The most common way humans become infected is by inhaling tiny airborne particles containing the virus that are generated when these materials are disturbed. In some cases, hantavirus can also be transmitted through rodent bites.
Hantavirus infections in humans can lead to two main syndromes:
- Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS): This is the more severe form of hantavirus infection and can be fatal. It typically starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, but it can progress rapidly to severe respiratory distress, with coughing and difficulty breathing. HPS is seen primarily in the Americas and is associated with the deer mouse, cotton rat, and other rodents.
- Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS): This form of hantavirus infection is more commonly found in Europe and Asia. Symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, and in severe cases, it can lead to kidney failure and hemorrhage. HFRS is associated with different rodent species, depending on the region, such as the bank vole in Europe and the striped field mouse in Asia.
It’s important to note that hantavirus infections are relatively rare, and not all hantaviruses cause severe illness. The severity of the disease can vary depending on the specific virus and the individual’s overall health.
Preventative measures to reduce the risk of hantavirus infection include:
- Avoiding contact with rodents: Do not handle or disturb rodent nests, droppings, or dead rodents without proper protection (e.g., gloves, mask).
- Rodent-proofing your home: Seal any cracks or openings in your home to prevent rodents from entering.
- Proper cleaning: If cleaning areas with evidence rodents, use caution and wet-cleaning methods to minimize the generation airborne particles.
- Good hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling potentially contaminated materials or being in areas where rodents are present.
- Rodent control: Take steps to control rodent populations in and around your home, such as using traps or calling pest control professionals.
If you suspect you have been exposed to hantavirus or experience symptoms, especially if you have been in contact with rodents or their droppings, seek medical attention promptly. Early diagnosis and medical treatment can improve the chances of recovery.