Doctors' Views


ATLANTA-In the Four Corners area of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico in the summer of 1993, there were reported a cluster of patients that were afflicted by a deadly virus infection involving the lungs which later was identified as a hantavirus. The disease that affected these individuals has come to be known as the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Hantaviruses are a family of viruses that can lead to bleeding in the lungs (hemorrhagic fever) and kidney damage. Prior to the outbreak in the southwestern United States, they were best known to cause disease from western Europe to eastern Asia.

A recent update of hantavirus infection by authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was published in the medical journal HOSPITAL PRACTICE (1997;32:93-108).

Anne K. Pflieger, former coordinator of HPS U.S. national surveillance, and Dr. Ali S. Khan, an epidemiologist with the CDC, authored the article which outlined new features of hantavirus disease as well as current thoughts on both treatment and prevention.

The virus originally responsible for the outbreak in the U.S. has now been named the Sin Nombre (SNV) virus. ("Sin Nombre" means "without name" in Spanish!) This virus is transmitted by deer mice which are most common in the western states.

HPS cases totaled 160 as of May, 1997.

Symptoms of HPS include an early phase of fever for 3 to 5 days, with muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, rapid heart rate, chills, nausea and vomiting. Patients can develop abdominal pain. Next, shortness of breath rapidly becomes severe as the lungs fill up with bloody fluid. Blood pressure drops and soon patients require mechanical (artificial) breathing machines. Some patients develop serious kidney disease. Death occurs by an average of 5 days as a result of heart and lung failure.