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Hantavirus Infections - Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment and Prevention

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Hantavirus Infections - Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment and Prevention

5 min read


Hantavirus is a type of virus that is distributed mostly by rats and can cause a variety of disease syndromes in people all over the world.

Written by

Dr. Geethika. B

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Pandian. P

Published At July 5, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 22, 2024

What Are Hantavirus Infections?

Hantavirus is found in infected deer mice and wild rodents' urine, saliva, and droppings. It causes Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a rare but serious lung disease. The virus does not survive long outside its host, lasting less than a week in the open air and only a few hours when exposed to direct sunlight. Hantavirus (HV) is a new zoonotic disease from rodents like mice and rats. Fever, myalgia, gastrointestinal complaints, and a sudden onset of respiratory distress and hypotension distinguish it. The pathogen is a member of the Bunyaviridae family and belongs to the Hantavirus genus. It was named after the Hantaan River in South Korea, where it was discovered in 1978.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), which can be fatal, is the most common clinical form of the disease in the region. HPS symptoms can appear up to 42 days and sometimes up to 56 days after exposure, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of infection. The disease was first identified in 1993 when an epidemic resulted in 27 cases in the United States' southeast region. However, a review of the disease's history reveals cases dating back to 1959.

What Are the Symptoms of Hantavirus?

After exposure, the incubation period can last anywhere from a few days to six weeks. Infected individuals may experience:

What Are the Causes of Hantavirus Infections?

Infection with the Hantavirus is most prevalent in the North and South of the United States. Every hantavirus strain has a particular rodent vector. In Central and North America, deer mice are the predominant viral carriers. Because rice rats contaminate food with their urine and saliva, people living where rice rats are present are at risk of contracting hantavirus infection. Humans can contract the virus from white-tailed mice through the airborne secretions and bodily fluids they carry. The common cause of hantavirus pulmonary sickness is cotton rats. The spring and summer are when the sickness gets worse.


The rodent's saliva, feces, or urine contain the virus. There are several ways in which individuals could come into contact with the virus:

  • Breathing in viruses, when they become airborne due to scattered rodent excrement or nesting goods, is the most common method of transmission.

  • Consuming food tainted by mouse excrement, urine, or saliva

  • Touching a nest or other object contaminated with the virus, then contacting the mouth, eyes, or nose

  • Receiving a bite or scrape by a rodent carrying the infection

  • Only one strain of the virus, known as the Andes virus, discovered in South America, has been shown to spread from person to person.

What Is the Virus's Effect on the Human Body?

Hantaviruses eventually cause capillaries, which are microscopic blood vessels, to leak when they enter the lungs. The lungs increase in size with fluid (pulmonary edema), causing significant pulmonary and cardiac failure. Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome is another illness brought on by distinct hantavirus strains that result in significant kidney damage. There are more animal carriers of these virus types in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

How Is Hantavirus Transmitted?

Human Hantavirus infections are most common in rural areas (forests, fields, farms, etc.) where rodents carrying the virus can be found. However, transmission can occur in urban areas as well. The virus is spread by inhaling rodent droppings (urine and feces) and saliva. Only certain types of rats and mice can transmit the virus that causes HPS to humans.

Individuals are most likely exposed to Hantaviruses when they work, play, or live in enclosed spaces with an active rodent infestation. Human infection is not age, race, ethnic group, or gender-specific. It is unknown whether larger particles can cause direct transmission when they come into contact with ocular, nasal, or oropharyngeal mucous membranes. On the other hand, small skin breaks and rodent bites are likely effective but uncommon routes of human infection.

Ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and other biting arthropods play no role in Hantavirus transmission. Even though cats and dogs are not known to be Hantavirus carriers, they may bring diseased rodents into contact with humans.

What Are the Risk Factors for Hantavirus Infections?

Hantavirus is more common in the rural areas of the western United States. Any exposure to rodent habitats can increase the risk of the disease. Rodent nests, urine, and droppings are commonly found in the following sites:

  • Farm buildings.

  • Buildings that are rarely used, like storage sheds.

  • Seasonal cabins or campers.

  • Camping grounds or hiking shelters.

  • Basements or attics.

  • Areas of construction.

Activities that can increase the risk of hantavirus exposure include:

  • Cleaning buildings that have been closed for a long time.

  • Cleaning up rodent nests or droppings without taking the necessary precautions

  • Working in a field where a person is more likely to encounter rodents, such as construction, utility work, pest control, or farming.

How Can Hantavirus Be Diagnosed and Treated?

Early detection and treatment improve clinical outcomes. Antipyretics and analgesics should be used as needed in the early stages of the illness. In some cases, patients should be given broad-spectrum antibiotics while the etiologic agent is determined.

Clinical care should prioritize hydration management, hemodynamic monitoring, and ventilation support for the patient due to the rapid course of Hantavirus. Severe cases should be transferred to Intensive Care Units (ICUs) immediately.

In the early stages, Hantavirus infections may resemble other diseases such as leptospirosis, dengue fever, chikungunya, and even influenza. The inclusion of this disease in the differential diagnosis of febrile syndromes may result in earlier detection and better case management. Early detection and decentralization of laboratories, allowing for early detection and better case management, may significantly reduce fatality rates.

How Can Hantavirus Be Prevented?

Hantavirus can be avoided by reducing people's contact with rodents and their excretory products. Preventing rodent infestations in the home, workplace, and recreational areas through hygienic practices is important. In the Americas, there is currently no vaccine against Hantavirus.

Preventive measures against occupational and eco-tourism hazards should be implemented. While most common tourism activities pose little or no risk of exposing visitors to rodents or their excreta, people who engage in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking should take precautions to avoid potentially infectious materials. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends implementing integrated environmental management to reduce rodent populations.

The primary measures to reduce personal risk are rodents and infection control. Reducing rodent food supplies and nesting locations inside and outside the home are among the specific measures. Steps to avoid Hantavirus infection while cleaning rodent-infested regions, prophylactic measures for persons who work with wild rats, and precautions to safeguard campers and hikers are all recommended. Rodent control campaigns should be carried out to reduce rodent populations. Seal any holes in the house to reduce the likelihood of rodents burrowing within a 30-meter radius. Remove any elements in the home that may attract rodents (including food, grain, and garbage). Protective equipment should be used when performing agricultural and cleaning tasks.

How Long Does the Hantavirus Survive in Nature?

Temperature, humidity, and other environmental variables all affect how long the Hantavirus can survive in the environment. The time that the Hantavirus can survive in excretions may even depend on what the rodents eat. The Washington State Department of Health states that Hantavirus can survive at room temperature for two to three days. This virus's lifespan is shortened by exposure to sunshine, although freezing conditions can prolong it. Treating any wild rodent feces site as though it were contagious is the prudent course of action.


The most severe Hantavirus complication is death from respiratory failure. Those who survive may require several weeks to recover fully. Those who survive do not have chronic infections, nor do they have other chronic issues or complications. The prognosis of Hantavirus is fair to poor, with approximately 62 percent of patients recovering and approximately 38 percent dying. The prognosis may be better if the patient receives their diagnosis early and is supported in a hospital intensive care unit. However, early detection of Hantavirus is difficult; some patients need to be made aware they have been exposed to Hantavirus-infected rodents.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Can a Person Get Infected With a Hantavirus?

Hantavirus is mainly found in deer mice's saliva, urine, and droppings. The modes through which the Hantavirus spreads to other people are listed below:
- It might spread when a rodent with the virus bites a person.
- People might acquire the virus if they touch or come in contact with contaminated saliva or rodent urine.
- Some people might become infected when they consume food contaminated with rodent urine or droppings.


What Are the Initial Symptoms of Hantavirus?

Hantavirus can affect the lungs and cause a severe and rare disease known as the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Hantavirus's early signs and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. It initially affects many muscles, including the back, thighs, hips, and shoulders. Sometimes, the following symptoms might be seen:
- Dizziness.
- Chills.
- Nausea.
- Vomiting.
- Diarrhea.
- Abdominal pain.


Can Hantavirus Infection Turn Fatal?

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome usually turns fatal and life-threatening. It is a respiratory disease caused by infection with different strains of Hantavirus carried by rodents. The study reports that Hantavirus has a mortality rate of 38 %.


Is Hantavirus Infection Commonly Seen?

Hantavirus infection is infrequent because, as per the study reports, only 728 cases were reported in 2017. The disease is not limited to the ones with a weak immune system. It can affect any individual who has inhaled or come in contact with urine, saliva, or infected rodent droppings.


Can a Patient Survive a Hantavirus Infection?

Hantavirus infection has a fair to poor prognosis because it has been noted that usually, 62 % diagnosed with the infection survive, and 38 % of them die. There is no specific treatment plan or vaccine available for Hantavirus. Still, the prognosis and the patient's survival can be improved by giving him intensive medical care and diagnosing the condition early.


Which Is the Best Disinfectant for Hantavirus?

Hantaviruses are commonly found in wild rodents. Humans are affected when they come in contact with these rodents. Detergents and disinfectants, including diluted household bleach and phenol products, are effective against Hantaviruses. Water solutions must remain on the surface for 10 to 15 minutes to kill the virus.


Should a Person Be Concerned About the Hantavirus?

A person should be concerned about the rare disease known as the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. This is because it is a severe and life-threatening condition that can damage the lungs. Hantavirus is an infectious disease that primarily gets transmitted to humans through rodents.


Is N95 Mask Effective Against Hantavirus?

Hantavirus usually spreads through mouse feces, saliva, and urine. The particles from these mouse feces become airborne when cleaned, swept, or vacuumed. Hence, an N95 mask prevents the inhalation of these infected particles. An N95 dust mask is usually considered effective against viruses.


Who Is at a Higher Risk of Hantavirus Infections?

Saliva, urine, and rodent droppings carry viral particles, so people who come in contact with these rodents are at a higher risk of acquiring Hantavirus infection. In addition, the presence of rodents in and around homes or in the locality increases the risk of developing an infection. Even a healthy individual can develop infections if exposed to the virus.


What Is the Effect of the Hantavirus on the Lungs?

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome affects the lungs and causes severe symptoms. The viral infection causes an accumulation of fluids in the lungs, thereby forming pockets and making it difficult for the patient to breathe. This may eventually result in hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and accumulation of tissues and cells in the lungs.


What Is Meant by the Term Non-pulmonary Hantavirus Infection?

Non-pulmonary Hantavirus infection is a condition in which non-specific viral symptoms like fever, chills, headache, myalgia, and other gastrointestinal symptoms are seen. The patient does not exhibit any cardio-pulmonary symptoms.
Dr. Pandian. P
Dr. Pandian. P

General Surgery


hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
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