Hantaviruses are rodent-borne, zoonotic viruses that cause serious infections in humans, including haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS). While the risk to travellers is low, nine cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome were confirmed this summer in visitors to California's Yosemite National Park, resulting in three deaths.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded a worldwide alert, warning that visitors to the tent cabins between June and August 2012 may be at risk. The virus can incubate for up to six weeks after exposure, causing with early flu-like symptoms.
While rarely seen in the UK, hantavirus diseases (named after the Hantaan River in Korea where cases were first identified) are global diseases. The HPA states there are approximately 150,000 cases of HRFS annually, worldwide, while figures from the Pan American Health Organisation suggest more than 200,000 cases a year, mainly in Eastern Europe and Central to East Asia. 1,2
Approximately 18 new hantaviruses have been discovered in South America in the last 20 tears and it is thought that the disease will become more common in future unless public health measures are taken to eliminate rodents from human communities. 3,4,5.