Hantaviruses are a group of viruses transmitted by rodents that can affect humans and cause serious lung diseases.
The genus Hantavirus groups a large number of viruses transmitted by rodents that cause various human zoonoses , that is, animal diseases that spread and affect man.
The hanataviruses belong to the family Bunyaviridae, in which are other viruses that affect man, such as the virus of the valley fever of the Rifft . The hantaviruses were isolated for the first time in South Korea and from there they spread to Asia and Europe.
Rodents are the main carriers of the hantavirus , without being affected by it (they do not suffer from the disease) and can expel the virus through faeces, urine and saliva. Viruses can remain viable up to several days if they are in humid environments and protected by organic matter.
When a person comes into contact with excrements or secretions of infected mice, as well as with aerosols laden with viral particles can contract the infection. They can also be transmitted through damaged skin, by bites or by ingestion.
Symptoms of hantavirus infections
The symptomatology of the patients affected by this group of viruses varies depending on the specific causal virus. Thus, infections can be asymptomatic, mild or, on the contrary, generate clinical symptoms of great severity.
Within severe cases of infection, hantaviruses usually produce two types of conditions: hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (FHSR) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (SPHV).
Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (FHSR)
FHSR usually appears between 1 and 6 weeks after exposure to the viral agent. After this long period of incubation, the disease usually appears abruptly. The severity of the same is determined by the specific causative agent, with some species of hantaviruses more “harmful” than others.
The initial symptoms , which appear suddenly, are:
- Severe headaches
- Abdominal and back pain
- High fever
- Shaking chills
- Blurry vision
- Nausea and vomiting
However, in most cases the patient regains normal kidney function in several weeks or months. A low percentage of affected people suffer certain complications, which can lead to chronic renal failure.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (SPHV)
The initial phases of SPHV are very similar to those of the FHSR . The affected person suffers fever, headache, muscle pain, chills, vomiting and in many cases muscle and joint pain. After this initial stage, respiratory symptoms appear abruptly, such as:
In addition, cardiac conditions such as tachycardia , bradycardia or ventricular fibrillation may appear , which means that patients must be quickly hospitalized and in many cases need mechanical ventilation.
Although there is a low percentage of cases in which the death of the affected person occurs, most patients recover normal lung function during a long phase of convalescence.
Hantavirus infection is usually diagnosed by performing serological tests on the patient. These tests are intended to detect the presence of antibodies specific for the virus or of viral antigens (particles), which would denote the existence of the infection.
Other widely used tests are currently based on the detection in blood of the viral genetic material itself. Using very specific assays, the presence of small amounts of the virus’s genome can be revealed and analyzed to determine which viral species it belongs to.
Currently, there is no specific treatment for hantavirus infections. Neither have been able to develop effective vaccines against it, although it is still investigated in them.
Due to this, the treatments implemented in the infected patients are based on support measures, focused on alleviating the symptoms of FHSR and SPHV. Trying to avoid, primarily, the neuronal damage caused by the virus.