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Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a disease that spreads rapidly

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Abraham Eisenstein, M.D. ▼ | April 2, 2016
Infection   Similar to pneumonia but way more dangerous

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is an infectious disease caused by the Sin Nombre hantavirus with flu-like symptoms that progress rapidly over a matter of hours.

When a person comes into the contact with the saliva or feces of rodents that carry the virus, it becomes infected. The most common carrier is the deer mouse and it can be found in most parts of the United States but not in the southeast. First problem here is that all mice are not infected with that particular hantavirus and those who are may look absolutely healthy.

Another "nasty creature" is the white-footed mouse from the eastern U.S., and then we have harvest mice in the south and Canada. In other words, the whole U.S. and Canada are covered with a potentially very dangerous virus.

The first group of symptoms includes fever, muscle aches, headache, cough, and difficulty breathing. The patient may also experience chills, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and a sense of discomfort.

And here we come to another problem: symptoms progress rapidly and low blood pressure, shock, and respiratory failure because of excess fluid in the lungs may occur.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is dangerous not only because it progresses rapidly but also because there are several easy ways to catch the virus. The first is a direct contact, the second is by inhaling waste products or saliva from an infected rodent, and infectious virus particles could also penetrate through the mucosa.

The population affected by HPS is obviously related to the geographic location of infected rodents and exposure to their droppings.

People who experience flu-like symptoms after exposure to mouse droppings should go to a hospital immediately because HPS progresses over a matter of hours and the patient comes to a life-threatening situation very quickly. Most deaths occur within 1 to 2 days after severe breathing problems begin.

When in the hospital, we must be aware that the symptoms of pneumonia are similar to those of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. So, tests must be done to exclude HPS or to confirm it because the speed of treatment is of utmost importance. If the blood test confirms the presence and increased levels of certain proteins - Hantavirus IgM and/or a rising IgG titer - it is time for fast and aggressive treatment.

The patient is placed in intensive care unit, fluid balance is monitored, along with blood pressure and electrolyte balances. Oxygen is administered in the case of very low levels of oxygen in the blood, shock is treated with drugs, as well as low blood pressure.

Unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection, so the patients only hope is immediate help in a fully-equipped facility.

How can we protect ourselves? It is important to avoid areas where infected mice leave their droppings: in shaded areas, wood piles in the backyard or in your home's basement. If we must do some cleaning in such areas, we should wear a face mask and rubber gloves. After the cleaning, the place should be cleaned with disinfectant.

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