Increase in hantavirus infections

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Robert Koch Institute: The number of hantavirus infections has increased rapidly in Germany.

(07/27/2010) According to the Robert Koch Institute, the number of hantavirus infections in Germany has increased. Compared to the previous year, the infection rate is 45 times as high as before.

By July 2010, 1148 cases had already been reported to the institute. In the same period in 2009 there were just 25 cases. This is what the Berlin Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported in its latest report. In humans, the virus infection can cause symptoms such as a very high fever, headache, stomach pain, back pain, and bleeding in the eye (blood in the eye). In addition, acute kidney failure is possible in extreme cases. So far, no fatalities caused by hantaviruses have been reported to the institute. The incubation period until the onset of the disease is usually 12 to 21 days.

But how is the disease transmitted? The hantaviruses are most commonly transmitted by bank voles that live in the forests. However, the mice also live more and more in hallways, basements and attics. The health experts assume that a rapid increase in mice is most likely responsible for the massive increase in the disease rate in Germany. Susanne Glasmacher from the Robert Koch Institute assumes that the mice had enough beechnuts to eat this year. In addition, the thick winter blanket of snow protected the animals from natural enemies.

An increase in hantavirus infections was already recorded in 2007. At that time, too, an increase in bank voles was responsible. In 2007, around 1700 cases of illness were reported to the RKI. Since hantavirus diseases have only been notifiable in Germany since 2001, no precise comparisons can be made. But how exactly can the mice transmit the disease?

The viruses are transmitted via the urine, feces, but also via the saliva of the animals. This collects in the dust of rural areas. For example, if people come into contact with urine or feces while cleaning, the pathogen can be transmitted. Another possibility is the transmission route via the airways. This happens especially when the mice live in the house. Most of the time, the mice can be found in barns, sheds, stables and abandoned houses.

But panic would be exaggerated because not all mice have the harmful pathogen in them. In addition, simple but effective hygiene measures can reduce the risk of infection. Anyone cleaning their house should wear a face mask and gloves. If mice are found in the house, it is advisable to order an exterminator. Because the best precaution is to rid the house of mice.

Where did the most common cases of infection with the hantavirus occur? According to the RKI, most infections were reported in the Swabian Alb, Spessart, Bavarian Forest, Osnabrücker Land and Münsterland. However, some hantavirus infections were also recorded in the federal states of Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Thuringia.

There is currently no conventional therapy tailored to the disease. Human-to-human transmissions are currently excluded. Preventive measures, as explained, therefore make the most sense. Especially in rural areas, where the carriers are most common. (sb)

Author and source information

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