While the world is still grappling with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic, that has assumed catastrophic proportions, news surfaced just yesterday of a man who died in China, due to infection by a hantavirus, on his way to work. Following the diagnosis of hantavirus infection in the individual, the remaining 32 passengers on the same bus were also tested for the same.
This lead to the term hantavirus to trend on twitter for the next few hours, further intensifying panic and uncertainty among the common people. Several healthy individuals wondered if in addition to all the frenzy involving lockdowns, handwashing, sanitizing and social distancing, to curb the spread of COVID-19 amongst youngsters and the elderly alike, they would have to take extra precautions to steer clear of hantavirus infection as well. Also Read: COVID-19: How To Care For Elderly Citizens During This Lethal Outbreak
Hantavirus is an infectious microbial agent, which is a single-stranded, encased RNA virus that belongs to the family Hantaviridae. This group of viruses generally infects rodents including rats, mice, squirrels, guinea pigs and hamsters, but does not lead to any disease in their systems.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a serious respiratory disorder triggered in humans, as a result of infection by hantavirus.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is primarily caused by aerosolization of hantavirus, from rodent wastes including urine, fecal matter and saliva. Aerosolization refers to the phenomenon of the virus particles submerging into the airstream, making it easy for a person to inhale it. This could occur while cleaning out attics or sheds after prolonged periods of time, wherein rodent wastes lying on the floor could be brought up by sweeping or mopping, which could then be inhaled by anyone entering the area.
Once the hantavirus is inhaled by a person, it invades the tiny blood vessels called capillaries in the lungs, seriously injuring them and resulting in leakage. This, in turn, leads to the accumulation of excess fluids in the lungs, due to which respiratory failure and other lung conditions develop in the person.
HPS could lead to grave consequences in the lungs and heart if left untreated. Hence, it is recommended to immediately seek medical care once symptoms of HPS are recognized in a person, to ensure the disease does not prove to be fatal, timely treatment is given and the affected individual recovers completely.
The typical symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) resemble that of the flu and consist of:
- High fever
- Pain in muscles
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal discomfort
- Difficulty breathing
- Cough and cold with phlegm secretions
- Fluid accruing within and around the lungs, such as in pleural effusions
- A decrease in blood pressure below normal levels
The doctor takes a sample of blood from the person showing symptoms of hantavirus infection or HPS. Laboratory tests are conducted, to determine if the blood cells of the patient have synthesized any antibodies towards hantavirus RNA vectors. If the analysis indicates that antibodies have been produced, then the diagnosis of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is confirmed in the patient.
Once the instance of hantavirus infection is detected in the patient, pertinent treatment measures are employed, to ensure full recovery of the affected individual.
Specific treatment for hantavirus infection has not yet been determined, but doctors make sure to mend all the anomalies and abnormal symptoms associated with HPS.
Supportive care is given for the lungs of the patient which have swelled up with fluid, a condition termed as pulmonary edema. Also Read: Pulmonary Edema: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
To regulate normal breathing processes when the functioning of the lungs is damaged, techniques like intubation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) are performed, which provide sufficient oxygen supply to and from the lungs in times of infection.
Prescription medication and ventilation processes guarantee that the virus is completely eliminated from the body of the patient and they recover fully from the hantavirus infection, regaining optimal lung activity.