11 die from rodent-borne virus: What is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

A deadly disease carried by rodents killed 11 people in Argentina, according to a news alert from the World Health Organization (WHO).

In December 2018, the Argentinian Ministry of Health and Social Development reported an increase in cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a viral respiratory disease transmitted through airborne particles from infected rodent droppings, urine and saliva.

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According to the WHO, there have been 29 confirmed cases all originating from the same region of southern Argentina, Chubut Province, between Oct. 28, 2018 and Jan. 28, 2019. A majority of those infected are female, and at least 50 per cent of the confirmed cases began experiencing symptoms within the past three weeks.

The WHO is now investigating potential for human-to-human transmission after connecting the first identified case of HPS to six others who attended the same party on Nov. 3. Seventeen subsequent cases were reported in the following weeks, all with ties to the first group of infected persons.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that early symptoms of HPS include fever and muscle aches, especially in the thighs, hips, back and shoulders and general fatigue. Approximately half of all patients will experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and diarrhea. Four to 10 days after the initial illness appears, patients experience coughing, shortness of breath and lungs fill with fluid.

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With a mortality rate ranging between 35-50 per cent, HPS is a serious life-threatening diseases. In the past 25 years, hantavirus has been reported in 36 U.S. states. Almost 15 per cent (109) of all cases have come from New Mexico. Colorado (104), Arizona (78) California (61) and Washington (50) round out the list of the states with the highest number of reported hantavirus cases.

In Canada, a majority of the 109 confirmed cases of HPS have occurred in the western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Each year, anywhere from zero to 13 new cases of HPS are reported.

The WHO is advising that those traveling through or returning to affected areas pay close attention to their health for any signs or symptoms of HPS. Early identification and testing plays a crucial role in survival.

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