Viruses and viral infections are a constant cause of worry for global healthcare providers and governments. We are already in the middle of the deadly Coronavirus outbreak which has killed several thousands of people globally and infected lakhs more. Now, a new case of Hantavirus has also emerged.
Hantaviruses are a cluster of viruses which are primarily carried by rodents and these viruses can cause different symptoms among people all over the world. Any of these Hantaviruses can lead to infection among people. The Americans call this family of viruses as “New World” hantaviruses and these are known to cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).
The focus on this set of viruses has returned due to the death of one patient in China. Another 36 cases of Hantavirus infection have been reported from China so far.
How is Hantavirus infection caused?
Some of the Hantaviruses which are called ‘Old World’ hantaviruses are usually found in Europe and Asia. These viruses can cause hemorrhagic fever and renal syndrome (HFRS). It is this type of Hantaviruses that seems to have appeared in the recent cases in China. A distinguishing aspect of these viruses is that each hantavirus type is carried by a specific species of rodent hosts and it infects people via aerosolized virus which is present in urine, feces and saliva. A bite by an infected rodent host is also known to cause this infection.
Deer Mouse species is identified as a major carrier of hantaviruses in USA. A type of hantavirus known as Andes virus is known to have infected the close contacts of patients in a rare human transfer in Argentina and Chile. Fortunately, there has not been any reported case of this infection spreading via person-to-person contact in the US.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is a complex and occasionally fatal respiratory problem caused by the hantaviruses. Since rodents carry this virus around, any human coming into contact with them, is prone to the infection. The rare nature of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome has resulted in there being a lack of data related to the virus’s incubation. Different reports suggest that it could be 1 to 8 weeks from the day of exposure to urine, droppings or saliva of an infected rodent before symptoms appear in a patient.
The initial symptoms of hantavirus infection include fatigue, fever and muscle aches in areas like thighs, hips or shoulders etc. At an advanced stage it can cause cough, breathlessness and other symptoms of respiratory illnesses as lungs get filled with fluid. While treatment of HPS is possible, it has a high mortality rate of about 38%.
what Preventive Measures should be taken ?
Prevention is the best cure for viral infections, and this applies to hantavirus infection as well. It is advised that all efforts should be made to keep rodents away from your home or office. This would reduce the likelihood of your coming into contact with the rodents, their urine, droppings or saliva. Sealing of holes and gaps between furniture, walls and flooring should be undertaken and periodic pest control activities are recommended. These should be adequate to prevent rodent infestation in your living or work areas.
Since Hantavirus symptoms are quite similar to Influenza and other such viral fevers, an accurate early diagnosis is very difficult. However, the presence of respiratory illnesses and a history of coming into contact with rodents/staying in rodent infested places, are signs of the disease.
Such a rodent exposure must be immediately discussed with a practicing physician and medical care sought.
Hantavirus infection doesn’t have any proven or standardized medication or treatment procedure. However, timely identification of the infection and admission to specialized medical facilities, intensive care units might help a patient survive. Timing is of essence as well because once the infection fully manifests itself, there is very little help available in terms of treatment.
Recipient of Padma Shri, Vishwa Hindi Samman, National Science Communication Award and Dr B C Roy National Award, Dr Aggarwal is a physician, cardiologist, spiritual writer and motivational speaker. He is the Past President of the Indian Medical Association and President of Heart Care Foundation of India. He is also the Editor in Chief of the IJCP Group, Medtalks and eMediNexus