As is the case with any serious disease, a primary question about hantavirus and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is whether or not the disease is curable. In fact, when it comes to hantavirus pulmonary condition (the serious illness caused by the hantavirus), there is no cure for the condition. Rather, in some cases, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is survivable.
How Easy Is It Really to Catch Hantavirus?
A highly dangerous virus, the hantavirus is still not “easy” to “catch.” The former Surgeon General of the United States Regina Benjamin explained:
You shouldn’t panic. This is a type of virus that you are seeing that has been identified more recently but has been in the population all the time. It is that you are starting to see it better identified. We want you to know what the threats are what things are out there.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unequivocally states that hantavirus is rare and very difficult to catch because the risk of possible exposure is very low. But, there is a caveat. If a person fails to take precautions when in contact with rodent droppings, he or she unnecessarily increases the risk of exposure, making it easier to catch the virus.
Bearing in mind the very low risk of infection at this juncture in time, what does may the virus potentially more dangerous than some other types of viruses is the fact that it can be contracted by direct contact with fresh rodent feces, urine, and saliva as well as via contact with dried feces and urine.
Dried rodent feces crumble readily. This causes feces dust to become airborne. If it contains the hantavirus, the contaminated dust can be inhaled causing an infection. Indeed, medical researchers believe this probably is the most common way in which the virus is transmitted in the United States.
What Does the Hantavirus Do to Your Body?
The hantavirus has the potential for causing what is known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. When this syndrome occurs, the hantavirus attacks the capillaries in an infected person’s lungs. These are the smallest blood vessels in the human body.
The infection causes the capillaries to rupture or hemorrhage. Blood from the ruptured capillaries flows into the lungs. In a very short period of time, a person can be in dire condition. He or she needs to be placed in an ICU and put on a ventilator to assist with breathing. If the syndrome progresses, other bodily organs in addition to the lungs will start to fail.
What Are the First Symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?
The initial symptoms of hantavirus infection oftentimes are mistaken for some other medical issue, most often the flu. These symptoms are:
- Severe muscle aches
These symptoms appear between one to five weeks of exposure to the hantavirus.
What Are the Later Symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?
Above all, a person with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome will have an even more difficult time breathing in the later stage of the illness. This can occur within a few days after the first symptoms appear. A person who has hantavirus pulmonary syndrome may also experience:
- Stomach pain
What Is the Mortality Rate of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?
If a hantavirus infection develops into hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, the mortality rate is significant. One out of three people who develop hantavirus pulmonary syndrome will die from the condition.
When the virus was initially recognized in the United States in 1993, about 600 people were identified as afflicted with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Of that number, more than 200 people died. There has been no statistically important deviation in the mortality rate of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome since the virus was initially identified in the United States.
Care and Treatment for the Hantavirus
There is no specific cure for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The 66 percent of patients that recover from the illness do so spontaneously. In other words, the syndrome abates on its own accord for reasons not fully understood by medical professionals and researchers.
Placing a patient in a ventilator is vital in order to assist in breathing as the virus attacks the capillaries in the lungs. In the absence of this intervention, a person more than likely would not have the wherewithal to survive the assault on the lungs.
As stated at the beginning of this article, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is not curable, but it is survivable. A person who has been exposed to rodent droppings, including dried rodent droppings that may have become aerosolized needs to seek immediate medical attention.