Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome – Symptoms, causes, and more

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome – Symptoms, causes, and more

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a rare infectious disease caused by hantaviruses. It affects the respiratory system. It is also called hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome. The disease is spread by infected rodents. Humans can get this infection when they inhale air contaminated with the viruses that have become airborne from affected rodents’ urine, droppings, or saliva. The disease can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated on time. Read here to learn more about this rare viral illness.

The symptoms of this disease usually develop between one and eight weeks after exposure to the virus. Initially, the infection manifests as the flu but later progresses rapidly, resulting in damage to the heart, lungs, and other organs. This stage can be fatal.

Early symptoms
The early symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome include the following:

  • Fever and chills
    The temperature can rise above 101 ˚F, accompanied by chills and headaches.
  • Fatigue
    One can feel exhausted and experience a lack of energy.
  • Muscle aches or pain
    Those infected with this condition can experience muscle aches, especially around the thighs, hips, and back.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
    The infection can also cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain in the early stages.

Late symptoms
The late symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome begin to appear four to ten days after the surfacing of the early signs. These include the following:

  • Cough
    Infected people may experience persistent coughs with secretions.
  • Shortness of breath
    In most cases, this cough is followed by shortness of breath. The virus causes the blood vessels to leak, leading to blood pooling in the air sacs, making breathing difficult.
  • Irregular heart rate
    The viruses enter the bloodstream after exposure and cause organ damage. It can infect the heart and affect its ability to pump blood, resulting in reduced blood flow and low blood pressure. All these changes can lead to shock and, eventually, death.

Those experiencing the symptoms mentioned above must contact their healthcare provider right away.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is caused by certain mouse and rat species carrying hantaviruses. Deer mice, white-footed mice, rice rats, and cotton rats are some of the carriers of this virus. These rodents are found in the northeastern and southeastern areas of the country. The hantaviruses can cause human illness but are not transmitted from one person to another, except for the Andes virus found in South America. The disease spreads from rodents to people in the following ways:

  • Inhaling virus
    This is the most common mode of transmission of hantavirus. Inhaling viruses that have become airborne from infected rodent droppings or urine can put one at risk for infection.
  • Eating contaminated food
    Consuming food that has been contaminated with rodents’ urine, droppings, or saliva can also make people sick.
  • Touching contaminated things
    Touching things that have been contaminated with the virus and then placing one’s hands over the mouth or nose can transmit the virus.
  • Rodent bites
    Rodent bites or scratches can also cause the transfer of the virus. However, this type of transmission is quite rare.

Diagnosing in the early stages of the infection is difficult, as the symptoms can be easily confused with the flu. However, if a person has fever and fatigue together with shortness of breath and a history of hantavirus infection, the diagnosis might lean toward hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The disease is mainly confirmed by serological testing. A positive result indicates a viral antigen in tissues or one’s blood.

Though there is no cure or vaccine for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, the earlier it is diagnosed, the higher the chances of recovery. Treatment for the infection is mostly supportive and aimed at reducing the symptoms to prevent damage to the body.

  • Supportive therapy
    Those infected with the virus need to be hospitalized immediately. People with severe symptoms require immediate treatment in an intensive care unit. If the lungs are affected, a ventilator is used to support breathing. Intubation is also used to help keep the airways functioning.
  • Blood oxygenation
    In severe cases, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is required to ensure a sufficient supply of oxygen in the body. In this treatment, blood is pumped continuously through a machine that adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. This oxygenated blood is then pumped back into the body.
  • Dialysis
    In cases where the kidneys are severely affected by the virus, dialysis may be needed.

The risk of getting infected with hantavirus is high when people work or live in closed spaces where there is a large rodent population. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can be prevented, and one of the best ways is to avoid contact with the vectors and their excretion. Also, one should take precautions, clean one’s home thoroughly, and place traps to decrease rodent infestations.

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