Hantavirus: Deadly in Washington State
On July 6, 2017, the Washington State Department of Health confirmed that 5 people have been diagnosed with hantavirus in 2017. This is the highest number reported in the state since 1999. Three of the infected people have died.
In May of 1993, near Four Corners (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah), an outbreak of an unexplained pulmonary (lung) illness occurred. A young and healthy Navajo man, suffering from shortness of breath, was rushed to the hospital, where he died. It was discovered that a few days prior, his fiancé also passed away with similar symptoms. An investigation was launched, which discovered 5 other healthy, young people had also died from respiratory failure. Later that year, the new hantavirus was isolated and named the Sin Nombre virus (‘Without Name’ in Spanish). And the new disease caused by the virus was named Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease in humans caused by infection with a hantavirus. In the U.S., the Sin Nombre hantavirus is responsible for the majority of cases.
How HPS is spread:
· Mice and rats infected with hantavirus shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. When these wastes are stirred up, tiny droplets containing the virus get into the air. The virus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus
· If a rodent with the virus bites someone, the virus may be spread to that person, but this type of transmission is rare
· Researchers believe that people may be able to get the virus if they touch something that has been contaminated with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva, and then touch their nose or mouth
· Researchers suspect people can become sick if they eat food contaminated by urine, droppings, or saliva from an infected rodent
· The types of hantavirus that cause HPS in the U.S. cannot be transmitted from one person to another
Types of Rodents in the U.S. that carry hantaviruses:
· Deer mice carry the Sin Nombre virus and can be found throughout North America
· Cotton rats carry the Black Creek Canal virus and can be found in the southeastern U.S.
· White rats carry the Bayou virus and can be found in the southeastern U.S.
· White-footed mice carry the New York virus and can be found throughout southern New England, the Mid-Atlantic and southern states, and the mid-western and western states
Early Symptoms of HPS: All patients
· Muscle aches
There may also be (about half of all patients):
· Abdominal problems: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
Late symptoms appear 4 – 10 days after the initial phase:
· Lungs fill with fluid
· Shortness of breath
Is the Disease Fatal?
Yes, 38% of patients with HPS die
There are 2 blood tests available: one to diagnose hantavirus, the other to identify the specific type of hantavirus.
There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. If infected individuals are recognized early and receive intensive medical care, they may do better. (Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, only bacteria do.)
Potential Risk Activities: Any activity that puts you in contact with rodent droppings, urine, saliva, or nesting materials can place you at risk for infection. It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming.
· Opening and Cleaning Previously Unused Buildings: Opening or cleaning cabins, sheds, and outbuildings, including barns, garages, and storage facilities, that have been closed during the winter is a potential risk for hantavirus infections, especially in rural settings
· Housecleaning Activities: Cleaning in and around your own home can put you at risk if rodents have made it their home too. Many homes can expect to shelter rodents, especially as the weather turns cold
· Work-related Exposure: Construction, utility, and pest control workers can be exposed when they work in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have a rodent population
· Campers and Hikers: Campers and hikers can also be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in other rodent habitats
Prevention of HPS
· Eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite
· Seal up holes and gaps in your home or garage
· Place traps in and around your home to decrease rodent infestation
· Clean up any easy-to-get food
For information on Hantavirus, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/index.html