November 26, 2015
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Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (cont.)

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What causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

As stated above, the cause of HPS is infection of the patient by hantavirus. Currently, about 14 subtypes of hantaviruses have been identified. Many subtypes have been named (for example, Sin Nombre, Black Creek hantavirus, and New York hantavirus); some investigators simply lump them under the term of "New World hantaviruses." The Sin Nombre subtype has caused the majority of current HPS disease. The virus apparently damages cells that compose blood vessel capillaries, causing them to leak fluids. This fluid leak, if it is profound in the lungs, causes the pulmonary syndrome that can lead to death.

Hantaviruses live their lifecycle in rodents but apparently do no harm; the viruses multiply and are shed in the rodent's urine, feces, and saliva. A recent study in California suggested about 15% of all deer mice examined tested positive for hantavirus. Although the deer mouse has been the source of most HPS infections, many other rodents may carry a different hantavirus subtype virus (for example, the white-footed mouse, the cotton rat, and the rice rat).

What are risk factors for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

The major risk factor for HPS is association with rodents, their saliva, urine, or feces or with dust, dirt, or surfaces contaminated with such items, either by direct contact or by aerosol. Barns, sheds, homes, or buildings easily entered by rodents are potential places for hantaviruses to come in contact with humans. Rural areas that have forests and fields that can support a large rodent population are areas that increase the risk of exposure to HPS. Camping and hiking in areas known to have a high rodent population and occupying areas where rodents may seek shelter increase one's risk. Those who work in areas that may be shelter for rodents (for example, crawl spaces, vacated buildings, construction sites) may also have increased risk of HPS. The risk is higher in people who work in areas known to have produced HPS infections.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/22/2015


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