Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a very severe lung infection caused by hantaviruses.
What is going on in the body?
Hantaviruses have been found in both North and South America. Most hantavirus infections in the United States occur in the Southwest. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is caused by a specific type of hantavirus. This type is not found outside of the Americas.
Hantaviruses are spread to humans by contact with rodents and their droppings. The most common hantavirus in the U.S. is the Sin Nombre virus. It is found in deer mice and other rodents.
What are the causes and risks of the infection?
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is caused by an infection with hantaviruses. Hantaviruses are found in the urine, saliva, and droppings of infected rodents. When materials containing these body products are stirred up, the virus gets into the air. A person who breathes this air can get a hantavirus infection.
Air infected with hantavirus from rodent droppings can be found in the following places:
- in cabins and outbuildings that have been closed up for the winter
- in campgrounds in rodent-infested areas
- in crawl spaces and vacant buildings infested with rodents
- in homes that are infested with rodents
What can be done to prevent the infection?
It is important to avoid breathing air contaminated with hantaviruses. Following are some steps to minimize contact with body products of infected rodents.
- Air out closed buildings for an hour before cleaning them.
- Disinfect areas rodents have been in before cleaning them out.
- Repair holes in screens and cracks in walls to keep rodents out.
- Trap rodents and dispose of them properly.
- Disinfect and clean up rodent nests and droppings.
- Double bag disinfected materials, then burn or bury them.
Household disinfectants are effective against the hantavirus. A solution of 1-1/2 cups of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water can also be used.
How is the infection diagnosed?
The diagnosis of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome begins with a medical history and physical exam. An antibody titer test can be done to see if the person has been exposed to the hantavirus.
Long Term Effects
What are the long-term effects of the infection?
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is often fatal.
What are the risks to others?
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is not spread from person to person.
What are the treatments for the infection?
An individual with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome needs treatment in the intensive care unit. A ventilator, or artificial breathing machine, may be needed. Medications will be used to maintain the blood pressure and prevent the body from going into shock. The antiviral medicine ribavirin (i.e., Copegus, Rebetol, Ribasphere) is currently being studied for its effect on the infection.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
The most common side effect of ribavirin is anemia, or a low red blood cell count.
What happens after treatment for the infection?
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is often fatal. Someone who recovers may have breathing problems for a long time.
How is the infection monitored?
If the person survives the infection, he or she will have regular visits with the healthcare provider. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the provider.