Yosemite Deaths Raise Questions About Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)?
The hantavirus incubation period -- the time between infection and first symptoms -- isn't known for sure. The CDC notes that HPS symptoms tend to appear one to five weeks after exposure to rodent droppings, urine, or saliva.
Early symptoms are fatigue (tiredness), fever, and muscle aches in the thighs, hips, back, and sometimes the shoulders. Everyone who develops HPS has these symptoms.
Other early symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of people who develop HPS have these symptoms.
It's hard to tell these early symptoms from symptoms of the flu or other common illnesses. But if you get these symptoms one to six weeks after contact with rodents or their droppings, tell your health care professional immediately.
Late symptoms begin to appear four to 10 days after the early symptoms. These include coughing and shortness of breath. It becomes harder and harder to breathe. All patients must be hospitalized and nearly all need mechanical ventilators to survive.
The disease is often fatal, with an overall mortality rate of 36% in the U.S. In 2011, there were 24 cases with 12 deaths.
What is the treatment for hantavirus infection?
There's no specific treatment for hantavirus infection. Known antiviral drugs do not help. There is no vaccine.
The sooner people with hantavirus infection get intensive care, the better their chances of survival. Those who get care only when they can barely breathe do worst.
If you've had a rodent exposure and get any of the early symptoms, contact your health care professional immediately.
How can I protect myself against hantavirus infection?
Rodent infestations are extremely common. Keeping rodents out of your house and out of your campsite is important. Some tips:
- Keep foods in thick plastic or metal containers with tight lids.
- Clean up spilled food and dirty dishes right away.
- Keep outside cooking areas and grills clean.
- Put pet food away right after use. Do not leave pet food or water bowls out overnight.
- Keep bird feeders away from the house. Use squirrel guards to keep rodents away from your feeders.
- Keep compost bins at least 100 feet from your house.
- Animal feed should be kept in rodent-proof containers with tight lids. At night, return all uneaten animal food to these containers.
- Eliminate nesting sites near the home. Woodpiles, hay, and garbage cans should be at least a foot off the ground.