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What is a Hantavirus?

Hantaviruses are coated, single-stranded RNA viruses of the Bunyaviridae family with a diameter of approx. 80-120 nm. The name “hantavirus” is derived from the Korean river Hantangang. In this area, more than 3,000 soldiers contracted haemorrhagic fever during the Korean War in the early 1950s. So when the virus was first isolated in 1977, it was called “Hantaan”.

Infection with hantaviruses triggers endothelial cell damage that results in coagulation disorders (lungs, kidneys). (Endothelial cells are specialized, flat cells that line the inside of the blood vessels.) In addition, a hantavirus infection can lead to haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) or pulmonary syndrome caused by hantavirus (HPS).

Hantaviruses use rodents such as rats and mice as a reservoir to survive. In turn, these or their excretions are the source of infection in humans. Especially the bank vole (Myodes glareolus), which lives in broad regions of northern, western and central Europe, caused a strong increase in hantavirus infections in Germany in 2010 and 2012. This could be a result of the growing population of mice in recent years due to the mild winters.

How is the hantavirus transmitted?

Humans can become infected with the virus if they come into contact with the saliva or excrements of infected animals. However, a human-to-human transmission is unlikely. Especially the dried faeces of rodents can become dangerous for humans, as even the smallest particles of excrement circulate in the air and can be easily inhaled. This is why, instead of sweeping in attics and sheds, it is better to wipe surfaces and floors with a damp cloth so as not to stir up dust. In addition, one should touch dead animals only with disposable gloves and put them airtight containers. Infection is also possible through bites and injured skin areas that have come into contact with contaminated materials (such as soil or dust).

There is currently no vaccine against the hantavirus. However, experts assume that humans are immune to it following initial infection. The incubation period is two to four weeks.

What are symptoms of the disease?

Hantavirus infections are usually asymptomatic. Symptomatic diseases are classified under the term “haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome” (HFRS). The first phase (toxic phase) of the disease caused by hantaviruses is accompanied by mild flu symptoms, such as head, abdominal and back pain, vision problems and an abrupt onset of fever, which can last three to four days.

The subsequent second phase (renal phase) can lead to a drop-in blood pressure, renal dysfunction and, in the worst case, to acute kidney failure. Therapy therefore depends to a large extent on the symptoms that occur individually, which then have to be treated with medication including painkillers, antipyretics or – in more severe cases – by dialysis procedures. Recovery from symptomatic infection can take several months. Long-term effects are not to be expected, as the disease usually heals completely.

Significance for infections in hospitals and in the outpatient sector

Hantavirus infections must be reported in many countries, including Germany. Because person-to-person transmission from can be ruled out, no special precautions are required in outpatient areas and in hospitals (for example, isolation rooms).

Survival time of pathogens on inanimate surfaces

Several days (depending on temperature, humidity and other conditions)

Disinfectant effectiveness for prevention

The required spectrum of activity against hantaviruses is: limited virucidal

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