Origin of the Hantavirus Name

As is the case with a good many people, you may wonder how different things in the world have received their names. With this in mind, you may wonder how certain diseases received their monikers. For example, you may wonder how the hantavirus was named.

What is the Hantavirus?

Before diving into the specific origins of the name “hantavirus,” a bit of information about this virus might be helpful to you. Hantavirus is a virus primarily transferred via rodent droppings, but also rodent urine and saliva. The vast majority of cases involve infection that occurred via human contact with rodent feces. A hantavirus infection can render a person seriously, if not fatally, ill.

How Can a Person Contract Hantavirus?

In the United States, rodents carry the hantavirus. Specifically, a pair of mice and a pair of rats are most commonly the carriers of hantavirus that can affect human beings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection. These rodents are:

  • Cotton rat
  • Rice rat
  • Deer mouse
  • White-footed mouse

The method of transmission of hantavirus is specifically rodent droppings. Unlike some viruses, the hantavirus is virulent. By that it is meant that it can survive in rodent droppings for an extended period of time. In fact, live hantavirus can be found in dry rodent droppings

The fact that live hantavirus can be found in dry rodent droppings makes it especially dangerous. Rodent droppings generally crumble very easily. With little impact, rodent droppings can turn to dust. When that happens, some of the dust becomes airborne. Along with remnants of droppings becoming airborne, so does the hantavirus. Thus, a person can become infected via airborne hantavirus.

You need to fully appreciate how dangerous this mode of transfer can be. You may be thinking you’re taking a responsible step by “cleaning up” dry rodent droppings. On some level this is an advisable course of action to take. However, many people who cleanup rodent droppings do so without proper protection. The failure to utilize proper protection exposes a person doing cleanup to potential infection with hantavirus.

The personal protective equipment needed to cleanup rodent droppings includes:

  • N95 Mask
  • Gloves
  • Tyvek Suit

It All Started with a Small Field Mouse in Korea

In 1978 what has become known as the hantavirus was identified for the first time in a tiny field mouse in Korea. The discovery of this virus in an otherwise nondescript mouse would lead to the colloquial naming of the pathogen because of where the rodent was discovered. The mouse carrying this previously unknown virus was found near the Hantan River in South Korea.

As will be touched on elsewhere in this article, an infection with the hantavirus can result in what broadly oftentimes is called hemorrhagic fever. Over the course of 30 years before the discovery of the rodent carrying the hantavirus, the prevalence of hemorrhagic fever on the Korean Peninsula was of concern to healthcare professionals. For example, during the Korean War between 1951-1953, more than 3,000 cases hemorrhagic fever were reported among the U.N. troops on the ground in Korea.

Because of the relatively sharp focus on hemorrhagic fever on the Korean Peninsula, different strains of viruses that caused this illness were identified from the 1950s onward. This resulted in the specific identification of what is now known as hantavirus in a Korean field mouse near the Hantan River.

The Naming of Hantavirus in the United States

What is now known as the hantavirus didn’t make its appearance in the United States for almost 20 years after its discovery in South Korea. The first outbreak occurred in the Four Corners region of the United States in 1993. An otherwise physically fit young man was struck with respiratory issues in short speed. He was taken to the hospital where he rapidly died. He had what is now known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, an illness which is discussed more thoroughly in a moment.

As a result of the outbreak in Four Corners region, the virus was called the Sin Nombre Virus. A few other early outbreaks occurred in the U.S.A., resulting in a trio of other initial names for what is now the hantavirus:

  • New York Virus
  • Bayou Virus
  • Black Creek Virus

These alternative names are still used (typically on a regional basis). With that said, hantavirus is the generally accepted name attached to this particular pathogen in the United States and Canada.

Hantavirus Outbreaks in the United States

There are 10 states that have had the largest number of hantavirus cases reported since the first case of the virus was reported in 1993.  These are:

  • New Mexico – 109
  • Colorado – 104
  • Arizona – 78
  • California – 61
  • Washington – 50
  • Texas – 45
  • Montana – 43
  • Utah – 38
  • Idaho – 21
  • Oregon – 21

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

The most serious disease that can occur after a hantavirus infection is what is known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The syndrome ultimately results in the capillaries in a person’s lungs hemorrhaging. When that occurs, an individual’s lungs begin to fill with blood. In many cases, a person dies as a result of this syndrome.

There exists no cure at this time for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. While some people do survive hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, recovery commonly is described as being spontaneous.

Symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome are:

  • Cough that produces secretions
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Reduced heart efficiency
  • Accumulation of fluid in the lungs

Because of the manner in which hantavirus can spread and be contracted, coupled with the potential serious nature of an infection, engaging the services of a professional rodent dropping cleanup specialist oftentimes is the recommended course of action. A professional ensures that the cleanup process itself is undertaken in a safe manner. Moreover, a professional is committed to a thorough remediation process that eliminates rodent droppings as well as dried rodent saliva and urine.