What is hantavirus?

By | 26 April 2021

Hantavirus is a type of virus family transmitted from rodents to humans. Viruses belonging to this family, called Hantaan virus or Hantavirus, occur in different forms around the world and cause syndromes that can affect people locally in different ways. It is possible to come across infections caused by virus types called new world hantavirus in America and old-world hantavirus in Europe and Asia. New world hantavirus causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), while old world hantaviruses cause kidney syndrome and hemorrhagic fever. This type of virus, which was first detected in Korea in 1976, started to attract much more attention, especially with the coronavirus pandemic that affected the whole world. The death of a patient in China due to hantavirus infection during the pandemic process has led to an increase in the awareness of this virus, which has existed for many years. This type of virus, which affects various organs of the body, especially the heart, lungs, and kidneys, can cause serious health problems that can be life-threatening.

What is hantavirus?

Hantavirus is a type of single-stranded RNA virus belonging to the Bunyaviridae family. The main source of transmission in nature is rodents, especially mice. Hantavirus can survive for many years without causing any problems in rodents’ bodies and can cause transmission. It can be transmitted from rodents to humans directly or by air, or in many ways, such as food and items infected with rodent secretions. The infection that develops in humans with the contamination of the virus causes involvement in the kidneys, respiratory tract, and circulatory system. In the Hantavirus family, which has different subtypes, regional differences may be observed in clinical pictures related to infection, depending on the type of virus. In some studies, it has been observed that the disease agent persists for up to a year in the urine of rodents that are hantavirus carriers. However, water contaminated by the feces, saliva, or urine of carrier rodents; If the agent enters the body through the skin or mucosa in various ways, such as the sinking of an object infected with these wastes, the disease may become infected. Infected particles can reach the human body by air. Due to the limited treatment options for the virus, it is very important to avoid contact with rodents to protect against the disease and to take hygienic precautions for objects, foods, water, and environments that can be infected by rodents.

What are the symptoms of hantavirus?

Following the transmission of hantavirus, the first symptoms appear after an incubation period of 1 to 5 weeks. Hantaviruses cause the disease picture commonly referred to as “Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome”, or HPS for short, in humans. This picture may occur at the beginning or late stages of the disease, depending on the type of hantavirus. Early-stage symptoms include:

  • Headache,
  • Fever, chills, and chills,
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and abdominal pain,
  • Fatigue and weakness,
  • Joint and muscle pain

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Symptoms are seen in this stage, which can be called the first stage or early stage of hantavirus, are very similar to influenza, pneumonia, or various viral diseases and therefore it is very difficult to distinguish from these diseases at an early stage. 4-10 days after the infection of the virus, more serious and specific symptoms, called second-stage or late-stage symptoms, occur. These symptoms include:

  • Cough with phlegm
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Chest pain
  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs,
  • Low blood pressure,
  • Situations such as heart failure may take place.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can lead to serious complications that can be fatal. Most of the patients need to be connected to the respirator during the treatment process. Kidney syndrome and hemorrhagic (hemorrhagic) fever (HFRS) may develop in the late stages of infections caused by some hantavirus species, especially common in Asia and Europe. Again, depending on the type of hantavirus, although there is no problem in the lungs, only kidney syndrome and hemorrhagic fever can be seen. Since the infection poses a life-threatening risk, individuals who have the symptoms of hantavirus given above and interact with rodents or their waste and secretions should immediately apply to health institutions.

What are the causes of hantavirus?

Generally, each sub-member of the hantavirus family preferably infects a particular rodent carrier. The carrier factor that causes transmission in many cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome seen in North America is deer rats. However, cotton mice, rice rats, and white-tailed mice are other rodent species most involved in the spread of various types of hantavirus. The main route of transmission of the virus is respiration. The contamination of the viruses in the saliva, urine, and feces of the carrier rodents into the air and the inhalation of this air cause the virus to infect humans. The viruses that settle in the capillaries of the lungs in the lungs cause fluid leakage from the vessels into the lungs and thus, fluid accumulation in the lung. This condition is the cause of the development of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Although it is known that the North American type of hantavirus is not transmitted from person to person, there is evidence that some hantavirus species can be transmitted from sick people to healthy individuals, except rodents. Situations such as working in areas where rodents are present, living in rural areas, and cleaning closed areas that are not used for a long time can be considered among risk factors as they increase the possibility of contact with infected rodents.

How is hantavirus diagnosed?

Hantavirus infection is usually diagnosed after the defining symptoms, as early-stage symptoms progress almost in line with other respiratory tract diseases such as influenza. Some blood tests may be done to investigate hantavirus. Although there is no direct test that can be used to diagnose the disease, some laboratory tests and radiological imaging are effective in ruling out the possibilities for some other diseases that cause similar symptoms. The primary factor supporting the diagnosis in individuals with hantavirus symptoms is the patient’s history of exposure to air and substances infected by the rodent or rodents. For this reason, it is very important to get a detailed medical history of the patient in terms of the correct diagnosis.

What are hantavirus treatment methods?

Today, there is no definitive treatment method that directly affects Hantavirus. However, treatment applications can be performed based on the patient’s current symptoms. Patients are usually followed up and treated in intensive care conditions. Depending on the health status, some patients may require respiratory support or mechanical ventilation. By placing a breathing tube that reaches the trachea from the nose or mouth, the airways can be kept open and working. Respiratory support also helps to remove fluid buildup in the lungs called pulmonary edema. In more severe cases, the patient may need to be connected to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) device to bring the oxygen level in the blood to the required level. The mortality rate in patients diagnosed with Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome has a very high rate of 38%. Diagnosing the disease at the earliest possible stage and taking the patient into intensive care can significantly reduce the mortality rate. Dialysis may be required in patients with kidney syndrome and hemorrhagic fever (HFRS) due to renal failure. Early diagnosis and initiation of kidney treatment applications at the right time are of great importance in preventing permanent kidney damage. For this reason, patients who show symptoms and are likely to come into contact with rodent remains should be delivered to health institutions as soon as possible.

To be protected from hantavirus, which is a deadly infection agent, the environments where rodents are present should be avoided, and in necessary cases, the necessary hygienic measures should be taken and transmission routes should be prevented. If you have interacted with rodents or environments where rodent waste can be found and you are experiencing the symptoms given above, you can prevent the development of serious complications by contacting health institutions as soon as possible.

 

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