A New Understanding Of Hantavirus

Hantavirus is a infectious agent first discovered along the Hantan River in in South Korea. Depending on which specific kind of hantavirus is involved, infection generally results in one of two illnesses.

One, found primarily in Europe and Asia, is called "hantavirus hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome." It is sometimes fatal, and may completely destroy the kidneys. With medical care, however, it is survivable. Treatment to protect renal function including dialysis, makes it possible for the patient to live until the disease starts to clear up on its own.

The other disease, more common in the Americas, is called "hantavirus pulmonary syndrome." This, as the name suggests, is a pulmonary disease, causing flu-like symptoms. It has lead to around 200 deaths in the United States, around a third of people who have been diagnosed with the pulmonary disease in the 20 years since it was first identified as a separate condition. The various kinds of hantavirus are transmitted through rodent droppings, which can get into poorly protected food supplies, particularly when a person is camping.

Earlier this year, researchers announced that they had developed a model of how a hantavirus infection spreads within the body. The research team said they now have a more complete understanding of where a hantavirus infection starts, of how it triggers a potentially fatal immune response, and of the link between hantavirus infection and pneumonia. This clearer picture of the disease could potentially lead to better, more efficient, and more effective treatments.

Earlier research demonstrated how cholesterol provides hantavirus with some of the resources it needs for its attack on the body of its host. Hantavirus uses one of the proteins responsible for cholesterol production as a handhold into cells in the pulmonary system The researchers found that drugs affecting this protein provide some measure of defense against hantavirus infection. They further found that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can also help provide similar protection. This is important, because hantavirus, like many viruses, is notoriously difficult to treat directly. It becomes resistant to drugs within a short time, making a direct approach not useful in the long term. By using statins to root out the viruses’ support system, doctors may be able to treat this highly deadly disease more effectively.

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