Hantavirus Infection

What is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

Numerous viruses found worldwide belong to the genus Hantavirus . Some of the viruses in this group cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). HPS was first identified in the southwestern United States in 1993 caused by the Sin Nombre virus. The disease remains very uncommon, however sporadic cases have now been found in many states. There have been two cases in New York State residents, both due to exposures on Long Island. There have been no cases in New York City or New York City residents.

Who gets HPS?

People exposed to rodent infested environments are at greatest risk for becoming infected. Hantavirus infection has been documented in 31 states in the U.S., from at least 3 different viruses. Sin Nombre virus has only been found in the western U.S.; Black Creek Canal virus and Bayou virus occur in the southeast; and Monongahela and New York-1 viruses have caused infections in the northeast. The New York-1 virus was responsible for two cases in New York State residents exposed on Long Island.

How are hantaviruses spread?

Rodents such as deer mice (which can be found in New York City) and cotton rats (which are not found in NYC) can be infected with hantaviruses. It is not known how hantaviruses spread in rodent populations. Infected rodents shed virus into their environment. Contaminated urine, feces and dander from mouse nests can become aerosolized and serve as a source of infection in poorly ventilated areas. Human are infected when they inhale this contaminated material. Old world mice (like the domestic house mouse) and rats do not appear to be involved in hantavirus transmission. Person-to-person transmission does not occur.

What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

Typical symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, cough, and headache. After several days, severe respiratory distress develops. The lungs may fill with fluid and victims may die of respiratory failure and shock.

How soon after infection do symptoms appear?

The incubation period is not clearly defined. Typically 1 to 2 weeks, but it may range from a few days up to 6 weeks.

How is HPS diagnosed?

Hantavirus infection can be diagnosed by antibody tests, or by testing tissues from a biopsy or autopsy specimens. Hantavirus testing requires specialized techniques, and is currently only available through the State Health Department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Does past infection with a hantavirus make a person immune?

No one has ever been reported to get a repeat case of HPS, however it is not known how long immunity lasts following infection. It is also not known whether infection with one virus protects against other similar viruses.

What is the treatment for hantavirus infections?

There is no known effective treatment for HPS. Respiratory supportive care is provided for patients in severe respiratory distress. Fatality from severe illness is 40-50%. Recovery is usually complete, though restoration of normal lung function may take weeks to months.

How can HPS be prevented?

  • The best way to prevent hantavirus infection is to control rodents both inside and outside the home, and take precautions when exposed to rodent infested environments.
  • Remove and secure trash around the home and workplace.
  • Dispose of dead rodents properly (use gloves and avoid directly handling the animal, individual rodents should be placed in a double plastic bag and placed in the trash.)
  • If infestation is severe, professional extermination may be necessary.
  • When cleaning up rodent droppings, wet them down first with a 10% bleach solution and wear gloves.
  • Avoid contact with rodents and rodent burrows when recreating outdoors.

Last updated March 2003