Diagnosing and Treating Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)
Diagnosing HPS can be challenging. Symptoms are vague and easily mistakable for other viral illnesses. That is why a doctor must suspect hantavirus to pursue additional testing for HPS.
What to Expect
Patients living in, or with history of recent travel to areas with large rodent populations (rural areas) are at a special risk for developing the hantavirus infection. Patients in these settings should be especially alert if they develop the unexplained symptoms mentioned above. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for the "local flu," however, could be early warning signs of HPS. These symptoms can occur anywhere between a few days to 6 weeks after your initial contact with rodents that may cause hantavirus, and are usually followed by nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Within 2 to 10 days from the start of a hantavirus infection, your symptoms can rapidly progress to those of respiratory failure requiring prompt and potentially life-saving medical attention. Local populations and patients should be educated and encouraged to seek local help in the event of exposure to rodents and the symptoms that suggest HPS.
How HPS Is Diagnosed
Diagnosis relies on finding antibodies against hantavirus. Antibodies are specific proteins produced by the immune system to fight infections, and detecting antibodies against hantavirus in a patient with exposure and hantavirus symptoms can be used to confirm a hantavirus infection.
How HPS Is Treated
There is no cure for HPS. Treatment of HPS is supportive. Supportive care includes oxygen therapy, fluid replacement and use of medications to support blood pressure. Due to the risk of rapid respiratory deterioration, patients suspected to have HPS should be transported immediately to a hospital with intensive care monitoring, support with mechanical ventilation (respirator) and kidney dialysis.
Sometimes antiviral drugs, such as ribavirin are used to treat other strains of hantavirus and associated infections (HFRS). However, no large trials have proven them to work, but doctors may try in very severe cases.
This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.