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Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome


Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) was first identified in 1993 when an outbreak of this infectious lung disease took place in the southwestern United States. The viruses that cause HPS come from a group of organisms known as hantaviruses. These germs are carried by particular kinds of mice. People get the infection by direct contact with infected rodents or their droppings, urine, or saliva or breathing in air contaminated with the virus. On rare occasions, the infection is passed to humans by a mouse bite. There is no evidence that it can be spread from person to person. The incubation period (the time after contact with an infected mouse to the beginning of symptoms) may be 1 to 6 weeks, though that period has not been established definitively.

The majority of cases of HPS occur during the spring and summer, mostly in rural areas. Although it is a relatively uncommon infection, it can be deadly.

Signs and Symptoms

In the first 3 to 7 days of HPS, many of its symptoms resemble those of a severe cold, the flu, or a gastrointestinal disease.

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches in the large muscle groups (ie, back, thighs, shoulders)

After the first few days, respiratory difficulties begin abruptly and can progress rapidly. People with the infection will develop a condition called adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), in which the lungs lose their ability to move oxygen to the blood. Patients may develop a cough and shortness of the breath. Very quickly every organ of the body is affected.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

If your child has the symptoms of a severe cold or the flu and then develops shortness of breath or other respiratory problems, contact your doctor at once or take your youngster to the emergency department.

How Is the Diagnosis Made?

Blood tests can be done at specialized laboratories to identify the hantavirus.


No specific therapy is available to directly treat HPS. There are studies taking place on an antiviral medication called ribavirin. This drug may someday be an effective treatment for HPS.

Children with HPS need to be hospitalized in an intensive care unit. They may require oxygen therapy and get help breathing with a ventilator for about 2 to 4 days to combat ARDS.

What Is the Prognosis?

About 45% of patients with HPS die from the infection. However, early identification and supportive care in the hospital will help the majority of infected people recover from this dangerous syndrome.


Take steps to reduce the likelihood of rodents in your home and other areas where your child spends time. Seal all holes through which rodents may enter your home. Exterminate rodents in the area with spring-loaded traps and other measures. Wear rubber gloves when touching dead rodents, and disinfect the gloves after you use them.

Remove brush and grass away from your home’s foundation to prevent rodents from nesting. When entering an area where rodents may have lived, avoid stirring up or breathing potentially contaminated dust. Consider using a mask when cleaning areas contaminated with rodent droppings. Use tightfitting lids on garbage cans to prevent rodents from getting into the trash.

Last Updated
Immunizations &Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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