Named after the Hantan River in South Korea, the Hantavirus was first isolated in the 1970s. It is actually a series of 5 different viruses that live within the same family. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each of the viruses is a “negative-sensed, single-stranded RNA virus.” Mortality rates vary depending on the health of the individual who becomes infected and what occurs afterward.
In total, the mortality rate can be anywhere from 5-36%.
What Causes a High Hantavirus Mortality Rate?
The family of hantavirus is not the actual cause of most fatalities which occur after an infection. It is the disease which is caused after the infection, including hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome [HPS]. Some hantavirus infections are not associated with disease developed at all.
The highest mortality rates tend to be associated with HPS. During a 1993 outbreak in the Four Corners region of Colorado, 1 in 3 people who were infected and developed HPS would eventually die from the outbreak.
How Is a Hantavirus Infection Obtained?
Human infections of hantavirus are almost all linked to personal contact with rodent feces. One version of the hantavirus, called the “Andes virus,” has been observed transmitting from human-to-human recently.
For the vast majority of hantavirus infections to occur, a person would need to inhale aerosolized rodent excrement, including urine and feces, that also contain particles of the hantavirus.
The virus has also been known to transmit through the saliva and bites of rats and mice. General prevention efforts include removing rodent nests, sealing cracks and holes in homes that rodents could use for entry, laying down poisons, or introducing cats into the home to act as natural predators.
Is There a Vaccine for the Hantavirus?
As of 2016, there is a developmental vaccine that is in the third stage of a clinical phase trial. This vaccine may work against some of the viruses in this family, but is not thought to be as effective to fight Europe-based viruses. No commercially available vaccine right now is effective against this virus.
Over time, the Hantavirus mortality rate is expected to lower as more treatment options become available. Until then, the best way to stop an infection is to avoid being around the pests that could be spreading this virus.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.