Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is an infectious disease characterized by flu-like symptoms that can progress rapidly to potentially life-threatening breathing problems.
Several types of hantavirus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. They are carried by several types of rodents, particularly the deer mouse. You become infected primarily by breathing air infected with hantaviruses that are shed in rodent urine and droppings.
Because treatment options are limited, the best protection against hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is to avoid rodents and their habitats.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome advances through two distinct stages. In the first stage, you may experience flu-like signs and symptoms that may include:
In its early stages, hantavirus infection is difficult to distinguish from influenza, pneumonia or other viral conditions. After three to seven days, more-serious signs and symptoms begin. They typically include:
When to see a doctor
Each type of hantavirus has a preferred rodent carrier. The deer mouse is the primary carrier of the virus responsible for most cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in North America. Other hantavirus carriers include the white-tailed mouse, cotton rat and rice rat.
Inhalation: Main route of transmission
After you inhale hantaviruses, they reach your lungs and begin to invade tiny blood vessels called capillaries, eventually causing them to leak. Your lungs then flood with fluid, which can trigger any of the respiratory problems associated with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is most common in rural areas of the western United States during the spring and summer months. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome also occurs in South America and Canada. Other hantaviruses occur in Asia, where they cause kidney disorders rather than lung problems.
The chance of developing hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is greater for people who work, live or play in spaces where rodents live. Factors and activities that increase the risk include:
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can quickly become life-threatening. As the lungs fill with fluid, it becomes more and more difficult to breathe. Blood pressure drops and organs begin to fail, particularly the heart. The mortality rate for the North American variety of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is more than 30 percent.
Preparing for your appointment
You might first see your family doctor. However, when you call to set up an appointment, your doctor may recommend urgent medical care. If you're having severe difficulty breathing, seek emergency medical attention.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Blood tests can reveal if your body has made antibodies to a hantavirus. Your doctor may order other laboratory tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
Treatments and drugs
Specific treatment options for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome are limited. But the prognosis improves with early recognition, immediate hospitalization and adequate support for breathing.
Keeping rodents out of your home and workplace can help reduce your risk of hantavirus infection. Try these tips:
Safe cleanup procedures
Take special precautions, such as wearing a respirator, when cleaning buildings with heavy rodent infestations.
Last Updated: 2011-02-12
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