What is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)?
Hantavirus is a rare viral disease that can damage the heart, lungs and other organs so they cannot function properly. It is also called hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HCPS).
People get this illness when they inhale or come into contact with infected rodent droppings, urine or saliva. HPS progresses quickly. It can be life-threatening.
What does the hantavirus do to the body?
Once the hantavirus enters the human body, it replicates and spreads. In the lungs, the virus causes blood vessels to become weak and leak, which fills air sacs with blood and makes breathing difficult. In the heart, damage to the heart muscle itself plus weak and leaky blood vessels reduce the heart’s ability to pump oxygen-filled blood to organs and cells of the body. Without oxygen and adequate blood pressure, the body can go into shock, which in turn can result in organ failure followed rapidly by death.
How common is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)?
Hantavirus is extremely rare. The total number of cases that have ever been reported in the U.S. as of the beginning of 2017 was 728. Most cases of HPS in the U.S. have occurred west of the Mississippi.
HPS is not limited to those with a weak immune system. It can infect anyone who has inhaled or come into contact with infected rodent droppings, urine or saliva. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 36 percent of all reported cases of HPS have resulted in death.
What causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)?
Hantavirus is caused by a group of viruses called hantaviruses. Wild rodents such as mice and rats carry these viruses.
In most cases, people get HPS after inhaling particles of mouse droppings infected with these viruses. The deer mouse is the most common carrier of HPS.
The HPS virus can also spread to people after they:
- Are bitten by a rodent carrying the virus
- Touch a surface contaminated with rodent secretions (feces, urine, or saliva) and then touch their mouth or nose
- Eat food contaminated with infected rodent secretions
What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)?
Hantavirus causes different phases of symptoms as the infection progresses.
The first stage of the disease is the incubation phase. It produces no outward signs. This phase can last up to 8 weeks after exposure to the virus.
The second phase of early HPS symptoms develops quickly. It lasts from 2 to 8 days. Symptoms include:
- Fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Muscle aches, especially to thighs, hips, and back
- Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Rash (red spots on skin)
- Dry cough and trouble breathing
About 4 to 10 days after early symptoms start, the third phase of symptoms begins. This stage can be very serious. It may involve internal bleeding and the lungs filling with fluid.
These developments can cause life-threatening organ and respiratory problems. Signs that you are entering this phase of HPS include:
- Trouble breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest tightness