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Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases

Pathogen of the Month



June pathogen of the month: Hantavirus

What is it? Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, known more simply as hantavirus, is a severe and potentially fatal respiratory disease in humans. It is carried by rodents, making it a potential threat even to those living in homes. Human-to-human transmission has not yet been reported in the United States, although rare cases of human-to-human transmission have been reported elsewhere.


How widespread is hantavirus? The Centers For Disease Control has been monitoring hantavirus infections since 1993; to date, more than 700 cases have been reported, 16 of them in Kansas. The virus appears to be more widespread in South America, with individual and small clusters of cases reported in nine nations on that continent. Large outbreaks are rare, but they can be serious. Scientists have listed the mortality rate from hantavirus at 38 per cent. In 2017 an outbreak in Washington state claimed three lives.

Hantavirus extends worldwide and shows different clinical presentations and severities. These presentations include HCPS and HFRS.It is most commonly found in rural areas with abundant forests, fields and farms for the rodent host.


How does the infection spread? In the United States, deer mice (along with cotton rats and rice rats in the southwest and the white-footed mouse in the northeast) are common hantavirus reservoirs.Humans are most at risk when they engage in activities with the potential to put them in contact with rodent urine, droppings, saliva or nesting materials. This can include sweeping and dusting.

When fresh rodent urine, droppings or nesting materials are stirred up, tiny droplets containing the virus get into the air. This profess of infection is known as “airborne transmission.” Opening or cleaning cabins, outbuildings and other structures closed for the winter can also present concerns. Campers and hikers can also be exposed.

The good news is that hantavirus cannot be transmitted by human-to-human contact. In other words, you cannot be infected by touching an infected person.


What are the symptoms? Hantavirus symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle pains, particularly in the large muscle groups. These can be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, chills and abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.


Are there treatments or vaccines? According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, there is no specific vaccine, treatment or cure for hantavirus infection. However, early recognition and intensive medical care can help with recovery. Infected people may be given medication for fever and pain.


Are there current outbreaks? During May of 2019, several hantavirus outbreaks have been reported, including in the United States. Health Department officials in Colorado reported the year’s first case earlier this month, although few details were provided. The New Mexico Department of Health also reported a case involving a woman from McKinley County near Gallup in the northwestern part of the state. That victim was reported to be resting at home following hospitalization. In San Diego County, California, a deer mouse tested positive for the disease, although no human cases were reported.

The most serious current outbreak is in Germany, where an outbreak is considered widespread. The situation is especially prevalent around Stuttgart, with more than 200 registered cases in Baden-Wurttemberg state this year alone.


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Sources: Centers for Disease Control, CEEZAD staff