If you’re a health-conscious person, it pays to stay informed about potential risks and always take preventive measures. One of the most serious but lesser-known diseases that you should be aware of is hantavirus. Unfortunately, this virus has become increasingly present in many parts of the world, making learning how to protect yourself from infection more urgent than ever before. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what exactly hantavirus is as well as provide valuable tips on how to keep yourself safe and prevent it from infecting you or your family. Read on for an important lesson in disease prevention!
What is Hantavirus?
Hantavirus is a rare, airborne virus that’s transmitted through mice and rodent droppings. The virus can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a severe respiratory illness that can often be fatal. HPS is characterized by fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, followed by a dry cough and shortness of breath, which can quickly develop into severe respiratory failure.
Hantaviruses are a group of potentially deadly viruses that can be passed from rodents to humans. Humans can contract the illness by coming into contact with or breathing in particles from contaminated rodent urine, droppings, or nests. Different species of rodents carry different forms of hantavirus.
Hantavirus strains are two categories:
“Old World” types are in Europe and Asia and lead to a complication, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS). “New World” strains spread mainly through North, Central and South America and causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Evidence of the virus has also been found in Africa although only one human case has ever been reported there.
The severity of HFRS and HPS can range from mild to severe. Factors that determine the severity of the case include the type of hantavirus that infected a person as well as a person’s genetic predisposition for developing complications to the virus.
Public health agencies are increasingly focusing on hantaviruses as an emerging public health threat because new strains continue to be identified from unexpected sources like insects and bats. At the moment, no cure exists for the virus so focus remains on public awareness and prevention.
What Are Hantavirus Symptoms?
Hantavirus creates one of two conditions depending on the type of virus with which a person has an infection. “New World” viruses cause severe respiratory distress while “Old World” viruses cause kidney failure.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)
Researchers still aren’t sure how long the symptoms of HPS take to show up after exposure to the virus. Estimates range from 1 to 8 weeks. Early symptoms resemble those of many other viruses and include:
The disease progresses and within 2-10 days, the following more serious symptoms develop:
- Shortness of breath
HPS currently has a fatality rate of about 38 percent. Initially, symptoms might start off similar to those of the flu, which could include fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Other symptoms that might surface later on often mimic Covid-19, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. These include cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.
Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS)
Researchers luckily know a bit more about HFRS. The amount of time it takes to develop symptoms after exposure is usually 1-2 weeks but the incubation period can last as long as 8 weeks. Early symptoms of HFRS are:
Later signs of the condition include:
- Low blood pressure
- Weak blood vessels that begin to leak
- Acute kidney failure
While still not great, the outlook is a bit better for those with HFRS. Depending on the type of hantavirus causing the condition, it’s fatal in 1-15 percent of cases.
Many species of rodents, as well as some insects and bats, carry hantaviruses. The type of hantavirus a host has depends on its species.
In North America, for example, the widespread deer mouse carries a strain of hantavirus called Sin Nombre virus (SNV) which is responsible for a majority of hantavirus cases there. Other rodents in North America that carry hantaviruses include the cotton rat, rice rat, and white-footed mouse. As of 2021, 850 cases were reported in the United States.
As for “Old World” strains, Russia currently sees the most cases worldwide, manifesting in thousands of instances of HFRS per year spread by the bank vole rodent.
When humans breathe in dust particles that contain contaminated urine, saliva or droppings of these rodents, they can contract the virus. It can also spread by direct contact with rodent excrement or through a bite. The extent to which these viruses can spread between people is still unclear but thought to be very rare.
Since there is no cure for the conditions caused by hantaviruses, protecting yourself from infection is the best course of action. Here are some ways to protect yourself against common sources of hantavirus:
Rodents in the Home and Workplace
Discourage rodents from coming indoors by sealing up any opening of the home larger than 1/4 inch. Rodents can enter through attics, foundations, around windows, and around pipes.
In addition, don’t tempt them with easily accessible food. Seal food, pet food, water, and garbage in heavy plastic or metal containers with tight-fitting lids.
When rodents are indoors, trap them with snap traps and take care when removing them, their droppings and nest debris. The recommendation is to first spray the area, including the dead rodent, with a 1:10 solution of household bleach and wait 10 minutes before discarding in a sealed, double bag. After the area is wiped down, clean it again with bleach solution.
Cleaning in the Home and Workplace
Avoid sweeping or vacuuming as this may release contaminated dust into the air. Instead, spray surfaces with bleach solution and wipe with a cloth or sponge. Wearing a typical face masks will not protect you against the virus. Steam clean rugs and carpets when they experience exposure.
Proper ventilation in your home can help prevent the buildup of dust and other particles that may contain the hantavirus. Be sure to open windows and use exhaust fans to ventilate your living spaces. Also, if you need to clean up a dusty area, wear a mask, and use a damp cloth to avoid stirring up dust particles.
Anytime you’re handling rodent debris, it’s important to wear rubber gloves which must be sterilized. Then, once gloves are removed, wash hands thoroughly.
Rodents can enter your home through even the smallest cracks and gaps. Check for any potential entry points, such as gaps around windows and doors, vents, and holes in your walls. Seal these entryways using caulk, wire mesh, or other durable materials. When sealing entry points, make sure to wear gloves and a mask to avoid exposure to the virus.
When in the great outdoors, be mindful of areas where rodents may be burrowing. Avoid setting up campsites near those areas, as well as areas that have evidence of any rodent debris. If possible, do not sleep directly on the ground.
When entering a cabin, let it air out for 30 minutes. If it needs cleaning, spray floors and surfaces with a bleach solution rather than sweeping to avoid inhaling contaminated dust.
Finally, keep all food in tightly sealed containers.
Cleaning Barns, Sheds, or Unoccupied Spaces
Rodents often nest in barns, sheds, and places where they won’t be disturbed. Cleaning these spaces has lead to hantavirus infections. Depending on what you’re cleaning, disposable suits, rubber boots and disposable respirators might be necessary. Never sweep in these areas without properly sterilizing in the manner described above. If you work in a profession that involves cleaning these areas, your employer may need to follow guidelines and provide necessary protective gear.
Test for Hantavirus
A hantavirus test involves conducting an antibody test, which is typically done through blood sampling. The healthcare professional will take a sample of your blood and send it to a laboratory. The laboratory will look for the presence of hantavirus-specific antibodies in your bloodstream. It is important to note that the test may take up to a week to yield accurate results.
Hantavirus Treatment and Natural Remedies
Early detection of hantavirus improves outcomes. Since early symptoms often resemble other viruses, however, proper diagnosis and treatment can sometimes be delayed.
In cases of HPS where breathing becomes difficult, hospitals use supplemental oxygen to support the patient’s respiratory system.
With the type of hantavirus that causes HFRS, antiviral medications can help. Antiviral medication is has been effective in treating Hantavirus and is available for those with severe symptoms. These drugs are working intravenously and work by slowing the progression of the virus and reducing inflammation. In addition to antiviral medication, supportive care such as oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation and respiratory therapies may also be provided depending on the severity of the symptoms. HFRS is usually less severe than HPS but a full recovery can take months.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a rare but severe respiratory disease caused by the hantavirus. The virus is carried by rodents, and people can contract the virus through contact with infected rodents or their droppings, urine, or saliva. The virus can cause severe breathing problems, including shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and fever. The early symptoms are often mistaken for the flu, which is why it is critical to seek medical help immediately if you suspect that you have exposure to the virus.
Supplements for Hantavirus
Despite the lack of a cure, there are ways to strengthen the immune system and help support the body when exposed to a virus.
Garlic has well-known anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and immune-boosting effects. For example, studies show that people who regularly consume garlic may get less colds. While it hasn’t been studied in relation to hantaviruses, research does show that garlic may play a role in helping the body recover from other serious vector-borne viral infections such as Dengue fever. You can incorporate fresh garlic into your diet or use a dietary supplement like garlic extract powder. Take two daily servings of 650 mg of this supplement with a meal or as directed by a physician.
Vitamin A plays a critical role in a healthy immune system. One reason may be because it maintains the lining of the mucous membranes which protects the body against invading pathogens. Children and adults with vitamin A deficiency have a greater risk of contracting viruses. As important as vitamin A is, however, more is not better. Too much can cause serious side effects so it’s important to take the correct dose for your age and gender. Women who are pregnant need to be especially careful with vitamin A. As a dietary supplement, take 30 mg of vitamin A palmitate powder once daily (roughly equivalent to 150 percent of the FDA-recommended daily value). Use a milligram scale for accurate measurement and ask your doctor what dosage is appropriate for you.
Zinc is another supplement that has been extensively studied for its immune-boosting properties. Some studies have suggested that zinc may help reduce the duration and severity of respiratory infections. However, like vitamin C, there is currently no evidence to suggest that zinc supplements can prevent hantavirus infection specifically.
Like garlic, people all over the world turn to curcumin-rich turmeric to support overall health and address acute infections. Curcumin possesses anti-inflammatory properties which protect against many types of chronic diseases. While only small animal studies currently indicate that curcumin may have therapeutic effects on hantavirus, studies do conclusively show it helps the body fight other vector-borne illnesses like Zika. As a dietary supplement, take curcumin extract powder in one dose of 1,000 mg or less per day with water or food, or as directed by a physician.
Echinacea is a supplement commonly used to support immune function and reduce the severity and duration of respiratory infections. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that echinacea can prevent or treat hantavirus infection specifically. Additionally, some studies have suggested that echinacea may interfere with certain medications, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking it.
Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf extractis a supplement that has been touted for its antiviral properties. Some preliminary studies have suggested that olive leaf extract may be effective against certain strains of the influenza virus, but there is no evidence to suggest that it can prevent or treat hantavirus infection. It’s also worth noting that olive leaf extract can interact with certain medications, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking it.
The Bottom Line
Hantaviruses are vector-borne illnesses primarily through inhaling dust that contains feces and urine of infected rodents. Several strains exist, causing different types of infections with varying levels of severity. However, the types of hantaviruses that cause respiratory distress have a fatality rate of 38 percent. While there’s no cure or vaccine for these illnesses, people can protect themselves. By avoiding areas with rodent activity and/or understanding how to properly clean them, people can prevent infection. In addition, dietary supplements that help the immune system fight viral infections can also be useful.
While taking supplements may seem like an easy way to protect against hantavirus, there is currently no evidence to suggest that any specific supplement can prevent or treat the disease. That said, maintaining overall health and wellness is always important in protecting against illness. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all ways to support immune function and reduce the risk of respiratory infections. If you have any concerns about hantavirus, talk to your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease