Knowing about Hantavirus

Since the past few weeks a novel viral disease called Hanta virus disease is threatening life of humans in different parts of Nepal. This newly emerging disease also has been threatening life in rural areas of our country. Generally viral diseases occur when an organism’s body is invaded by pathogenic virus and infectious viral particles attached to the host body.

The hantaviruses are a newly discovered genus of viruses. Hantavirus is named after the Hantan River area in South Korea where an early outbreak was observed in 1970s. They normally infect rodents and do not cause disease in them. Some kinds of mice and rats can transmit the virus to the human beings through contact with rodent’s urine, saliva and feces. Some strains of hantaviruses cause potentially fatal diseases in humans, such as hantavirus hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Humans who are in the vicinity of mice or rats that carry harmful hantaviruses can get infected. It is a very rare virus, but it has been causing diseases in all regions of the world, and has  recently been seen in Nepal also.

When we get infected with hantavirus it will take 1-5 weeks to become sick. Early symptoms of this disease include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the thighs, hip, back and sometimes shoulders. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills and abdominal problems like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Most of the patients experience these common symptoms. The disease can be fatal and has a mortality rate of 38%.

There is no known antiviral treatment but natural recovery from the virus is possible with supportive treatment. Patients with suspected hantavirus are usually admitted to the hospital and given oxygen and mechanical ventilation support to help them breathe during the acute pulmonary stage. HPS can be prevented by keeping mice and rats out of the house and properly cleaning mouse and rat urine, droppings, and nesting materials with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water. As the virus can be transmitted by rodents saliva, excreta and bites control of rats and mice in the residential areas is the key prevention of this disease.

General prevention can be accomplished by disposing of rodent nests, sealing cracks and holes in houses where rats can enter and setting up traps, laying down poisons or using natural predators such as cats in the home.