Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a deadly disease from rodents. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a severe cardiopulmonary illness most often caused by the Sin Nombre virus, which is transmitted to humans by inhalation of aerosolized particles of rodent excreta or direct rodent contact. Humans can contract the disease when they come into contact with infected rodents or their urine and droppings. Hantavirus infections occur in eastern Asia, Latin America, and North America, including Canada. However, HPS seems to be restricted to North and South America.
HPS tends to occur in desert areas in seasons of above-average rainfall.People who live in areas where the virus is present, and who come in close contact with the saliva, urine, droppings or nests of mice, may be at risk of catching the virus. However, the chances of this happening are extremely low. Rodent infestation in and around the home remains the main risk for contact with hantavirus. High risk activities include: cleaning unused buildings, housecleaning, and working on construction, utility and pest control. Workers can be exposed in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have mice. Campers and hikers can also be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in other deer mouse habitats.
Although HPS can develop throughout the year, most cases have occurred in the spring and summer. HPS causes people who are generally healthy to suddenly become very sick. About 2 weeks (possibly a range from 1 to 5 weeks) after being infected with the virus, the person develops a fever and muscle aches. HPS begins as a “flu-like” illness. The main symptom is difficulty breathing as the lungs fill with fluid. This can quickly lead to an inability to breathe and, in severe cases, death from suffocation. In the early stage of the disease, a person may have a fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting stomach and have shortness of breath.
Treatment of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) remains supportive, requiring invasive hemodynamic monitoring with an arterial line and a pulmonary artery catheter and intensive support. No virus-killing drug is effective against HPS. Although there has been some experimental use of the anti-virus drug, ribavirin, mechanical ventilation (use of a respirator) is the main treatment. The best way to prevent infection with hantaviruses is to avoid contact with rodents and their droppings. If you live in an area where hantaviruses have been found, and you believe your home may have a rodent infestation, set metal traps to catch rodents, and close all possible rodent entries into your home.