Over the past few decades understanding and recognition of hantavirus infection has greatly improved worldwide, but both the amplitude and the magnitude of hantavirus outbreaks have been increasing. Several novel hantaviruses with unknown pathogenic potential have been identified in a variety of insectivore hosts. With the new hosts, new geographical distributions of hantaviruses have also been discovered and several new species were found in Africa. Hantavirus infection in humans can result in two clinical syndromes: haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HCPS) caused by Old World and New World hantaviruses, respectively. The clinical presentation of HFRS varies from subclinical, mild, and moderate to severe, depending in part on the causative agent of the disease. In general, HFRS caused by Hantaan virus, Amur virus and Dobrava virus are more severe with mortality rates from 5 to 15%, whereas Seoul virus causes moderate and Puumala virus and Saaremaa virus cause mild forms of disease with mortality rates <1%. The central phenomena behind the pathogenesis of both HFRS and HCPS are increased vascular permeability and acute thrombocytopenia. The pathogenesis is likely to be a complex multifactorial process that includes contributions from immune responses, platelet dysfunction and the deregulation of endothelial cell barrier functions. Also a genetic predisposition, related to HLA type, seems to be important for the severity of the disease. As there is no effective treatment or vaccine approved for use in the USA and Europe, public awareness and precautionary measures are the only ways to minimize the risk of hantavirus disease.
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