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|Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome|
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a deadly disease from rodents. Humans can contract the disease when they come into contact with infected rodents or their urine and droppings. HPS was first recognized in 1993 and has since been identified throughout the United States. Although rare, HPS is potentially deadly. Rodent control in and around the home remains the primary strategy for preventing hantavirus infection.
Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups-thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms.
Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a "...tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face" as the lungs fill with fluid.
In the United States, deer mice (along with cotton rats and rice rats in the southeastern states and the white-footed mouse in the Northeast) carry hantaviruses that cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. When fresh rodent urine, droppings or nesting materials are stirred up, tiny droplets containing the virus get into the air. The virus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus.
There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, we do know that if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better. In intensive care, patients are intubated and given oxygen therapy to help them through the period of severe respiratory distress.
The earlier the patient is brought in to intensive care, the better. If a patient is experiencing full distress, it is less likely the treatment will be effective.
Therefore, if you have been around rodents and have symptoms of fever, deep muscle aches, and severe shortness of breath, see your doctor immediately. Be sure to tell your doctor that you have been around rodents-this will alert your physician to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as HPS.