The symptoms of early-stage hantavirus pulmonary syndrome mimic the flu: vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills and muscle aches, according to Mayo Clinic. Four to 10 days later, the second more serious stage presents with difficulty breathing, fluid in the lungs, heart irregularities, low blood pressure and a cough with secretions. Symptoms can quickly escalate into a life-threatening condition, and because treatment options are limited as of 2015, early detection of infection and immediate hospitalization are vital for recovery.
Depending on the specific strain, the mortality rate for the North American variety of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is over 30 percent, reports Mayo Clinic. Severe cases can precipitate organ failure as fluid accumulates in the lungs and impairs an individual’s breathing. Respiratory support in the intensive care unit using intubation or mechanical ventilation can help prevent pulmonary edema and heart failure. The most serious cases require a treatment that circulates the patient’s blood through a machine to remove carbon dioxide and add oxygen.
Rodents carry hantaviruses, and each strain has a preferred carrier, with the deer mouse responsible for most of the cases in North America, explains Mayo Clinic. Infected rodent feces, urine and saliva are aerosolized when disturbed and transmitted to individuals who inhale the virus. Once in the lungs, the hantavirus causes the capillaries to leak, filling the lungs with fluid and leading to the common respiratory problems.