Expert interview: How to avoid dangerous hantavirus infections
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recently reported that the number of Hantavirus infections was particularly high in 2017. In the worst case, an infection can be fatal. An expert explains in an interview what effects the virus has and how you can protect yourself against it.
More and more hantavirus infections
Hantavirus infections are also on the rise in Germany, also due to climate change. Last year, more than 1,700 cases of the notifiable disease were reported to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). An interview with the head of the Institute of Molecular Virology and site manager of the National Research Platform for Zoonoses, Prof. Stephan Ludwig, was published on the website of the University Clinic in Münster, in which the expert explained important information about the topic.
The Hantavirus types occurring in this country mostly cause diseases with flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and stomach ache.
In the further course, there may also be a drop in blood pressure.
More serious disease courses are also possible: "Hantavirus infections in Central Europe can cause kidney dysfunction up to acute kidney failure", according to the RKI on its website.
However, the majority of people who become infected with the virus have no or only unspecific symptoms.
Despite the danger posed by the virus, the pathogen is not necessarily known to everyone.
As Prof. Ludwig explains, the hantavirus occurs worldwide. In Central Europe there are basically two tribes, one comes from Finland and another from the Balkans.
According to the expert, the local Hanta species are not as life-threatening as other Hanta viruses, for example in Southeast Asia or in the USA.
“We have a mortality rate of around one percent here. In Southeast Asia and the USA, the strains there cause mortality of up to thirty percent, although it must be said that the number of unreported cases is perhaps even higher, ”said Prof. Ludwig.
Infected vortices don't get sick themselves
Hantaviruses have a host in the animal kingdom - in Central Europe these are the vole mice. Infected animals carry the virus for a lifetime, but do not become sick themselves. But they excrete the pathogen in particular with the faeces.
"The classic infection in our area is that you get aerosolically infected with the dust from mouse droppings through the air - for example when mucking out the garage, the basement or the tool shed," explains Prof. Ludwig.
Therefore, it can affect everyone. Often, however, it also affects people who work in nature, for example in the forest, where there are many red vole.
How to avoid infections
Breathing masks can protect against infection. However, these should be particularly dense. The expert also points out that it can help if the working environment is moistened a little so that the dust is not whirled up.
"If you have worked in such an environment and then suddenly get a very high fever, headache and body ache, visual disturbances or even kidney problems, then you should definitely tell your doctor!", The expert warns.
According to Prof. Ludwig, even in the first few days, doctors would confuse the symptoms with flu, especially because of the severe headache and body aches.
As he explains further, in addition to the source of infection from mouse droppings, one can also become infected by mouse bites or by eating food that has been nibbled by mice. Animal feed is also often infested by mice.
Effects of climate change
As the expert says, the Hanta virus is a fine example of how health, virology, ecology, and climate change are related.
“Because the risk of infection obviously always has something to do with the number of red-headed mice that are currently in season. Red-headed mice feed especially on beech nuts and we have a recurring phase every two or three years in which there are a lot of them, ”says Prof. Ludwig.
The following year there are a lot more red vole. Accordingly, the number of infections with the Hanta virus increases this season.
Furthermore, the whole thing has something to do with climate change because the animals are no longer decimated by cold winters.
According to the expert, hantavirus infections are usually only treated for their symptoms, with painkillers or medication to maintain kidney function. There is no vaccination or antiviral medication. (ad)