Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is the history of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

The first recognized outbreak of HPS was noted in 1993 in the "Four Corners" area of the U.S. where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet. Two otherwise healthy young people, a Navajo Indian and his fiancée, suddenly became short of breath and died. This unusual situation triggered a review of deaths in the four states that resulted in identification of five other young people who recently died with similar breathing problems. During the next few weeks, additional people were found being treated in the same geographic area with similar pulmonary syndromes. Tissues from affected patients were sent to the CDC, where researchers searched for causes and found a link among the patients: infection with a previously unknown type of hantavirus. Since other known hantaviruses (in Asia and Europe) were known to be transmitted to people by rodents, the researchers started trapping rodents from June to August 1993 to determine if the virus was associated with the animals. In November 1993, a rodent (a deer mouse) trapped by CDC researchers in a house where a person who developed the pulmonary syndrome lived yielded the previously unknown virus. In addition, army researchers soon isolated the same virus from an infected patient who also had exposures to mice. This new hantavirus was first termed Muerto Canyon virus, then Sin Nombre virus (SNV), and eventually simply hantavirus. The disease caused by this virus was termed hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Further investigations suggested that other people had died from this infection in the past when autopsy tissue was found to contain the virus. When Navajo Indian medical traditions were studied, the Navajo medical culture apparently recognized the disease and had associated it with mice. The outbreak in 1993 probably occurred because environmental factors led to favorable survival and proliferation of mice. The mouse population was about tenfold greater in 1993 than in 1992 in the Four Corners area.

A large more recent outbreak of HPS occurred at Yosemite National Park, Calif., in 2012. The outbreak was linked to deer mouse dropping contamination in campsites (tent-cabins) used by tourists. At least three deaths occurred, and seven other infected people recovered. Public-health officials sent notices out to over 230,000 park visitors to warn them of potential exposure to hantaviruses by mid-September 2012. A map of the location of those people who were diagnosed with hantavirus infections is available at http://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/outbreaks/yosemite/map.html.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/22/2015
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