Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a severe and rare respiratory disease caused by infection with hantaviruses. The hantavirus is a virus carried by different types of rodents. Several strains of the hantavirus can lead to HPS. According to the CDC, HPS can sometimes be fatal even to people who were healthy before contracting the virus. HPS usually begins with flu-like symptoms and progresses to more severe stages. It can lead to mainly lung problems but also heart problems. HPS seems to affect genders equally. Mostly people who live in rural areas and those exposed to wild rodents, such as campers, are at risk of contracting the hantavirus and consequently HPS.
Causes of HPS
HPS is caused by being infected with one of the hantavirus strains. The main way of contracting the virus is through contact with a rodent that carries one of the strains. People usually get infected through inhaling the virus that becomes airborne from the carrier rodent’s saliva, urine, or stool. The main carrier of the hantavirus in North America is the deer mouse.
Symptoms of HPS
The incubation period of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome after infection is unknown. However, based on past recorded cases, it may take between 1 to 8 weeks for someone to start noticing symptoms. The disease has two distinct phases.
The first phase usually lasts for a few days with more flu-like symptoms, while the second stage progresses more aggressively to more serious symptoms that can even be fatal.
The most common symptoms seen in the first stage are:
1. Flu-Like Symptoms
The symptoms present similarly to what someone may experience when they have a flu. These can include high fever with temperatures greater than 101F. People infected with the hantavirus may also experience headaches, persistent dry coughs and chills.
2. Aches and Pains
These include muscle aches (myalgias) and feelings of abdominal discomfort, aches and abdominal pains. Some people also experience joint pains (arthralgia) and back or chest pains. The chest pain may be a result of persistent cough or lung complications.
3. Diarrhea and Malaise
These can include feelings of nausea, vomiting and constant diarrhea for the first several days. These can also lead to dehydration.
4. Elevated Heart Rate
Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) is when a heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minutes. A fast heart rate is not always a concern, as our heart rate usually rises during exercises or stressful situations. However, it is a concern if it occurs because of disease.
5. Breathing Difficulties
As the disease progresses it may lead to breathing problems. These may be an indication of lung complications. These symptoms include a constant cough. After that, fluid buildup in the lungs can happen that leads to breathing difficulties, such as shortness of breath and hypoxemia — abnormal, low levels of oxygen in the blood. There can also be accumulation of tissue and cells not normally found in the lungs. Other breathing problems that can present are rapid (tachypnea) and raspy breathing.
6. Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension)
Hypotension, a term used for low blood pressure, is when the blood pressure is below 90/60 mm/Hg. This does not always cause symptoms for some people but for others it can. Symptoms of hypotension include dizziness, fatigue and fainting.
This can be caused by lung and heart failure as the blood vessels leak and fluid starts to build up in the lungs. This can last up two to three days and may be fatal.
8. Changes in Urination
Some people might notice they urinate more or less than usual. Some of this might be a result of dehydration as well (in case of reduced urination).
If not treated properly, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can be fatal. In fact, 4 out of 10 people do not survive HPS. However, those who survive recover quickly with no long-term effects.
Treatment of HPS
There is currently no cure for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. People who are infected are treated using oxygen therapy, medications to regulate blood pressure and fluid replacement. Those whose symptoms deteriorate can be put on a respirator or on kidney dialysis. Some antiviral drugs, such as ribavirin, are also used to treat some types of hantaviruses early on during infection.
Diagnosis of HPS
As the first symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome are flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult for a healthcare provider to diagnose, and there is unfortunately no formal test to diagnose HPS, but it can be identified through an antibodies test. A diagnosis of HPS is usually made if there are reports of being exposed to rodents followed by fatigue and fever.
When to Seek Help
You should contact a health care provider if you or someone you know are experiencing:
- Unexplained fevers.
- Dry coughs.
- Breathing difficulties.
- Body pains or chills.
Exposure to rodents raises your risk of contracting HPS. So, if you are experiencing the above symptoms and have been exposed, contact your healthcare provider.
- CHEST Foundation (Hantavirus Pulmonary)
- NORD (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome)
- American Lung Association (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome Symptoms and Diagnosis)
- Mayo Clinic (Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome)
- CDC [Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)]
- WebMD (What is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?)
- Medscape (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome)