Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome Symptoms and Diagnosis

What Are Symptoms of Hantavirus?

Since HPS affects a small population, the “incubation” period is unknown. In most recorded cases, symptoms develop 1 to 8 weeks after exposure. Early symptoms, such as fever, dry cough, body aches, headaches, diarrhea and abdominal pain, are similar to many other viral illnesses. This may prevent an HPS diagnosis before the illness progresses.

If the initial symptoms are not connected to hantavirus exposure and are left untreated, late symptoms will onset rapidly. These symptoms include cough and shortness of breath, which are the result of leaky blood vessels and lead to collection of fluid in the lungs, bleeding and failure of the heart to pump. The combination of these changes can lead to shock, failure of several organs and even death.

With this in mind, key symptoms and signs to watch for (with a history of rodent exposure) include:

  • Fever greater than 101◦F, chills, body aches, headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting and abdominal pain
  • A dry cough followed by rapid onset of breathing difficulty

How Hantavirus Is Diagnosed

Diagnosing HPS can be challenging because early symptoms mimic the flu. There are currently no tests used to diagnose HPS which is why a history of rodent exposure accompanied by fever and fatigue is a strong indicator of infection. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed, you should see your doctor immediately.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have unexplained fever, body aches, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headaches, dry cough or severe breathing difficulty, you should see a healthcare provider. This is especially true if you live in the southwestern US and are exposed to large rodent populations, their nesting material and waste.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: November 17, 2022

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