Hantavirus frequently causes infections in Germany. But where is it common and how dangerous is this pathogen for humans?
The most important things at a glance
The risk of contracting hantavirus is currently particularly high in the Osnabrück region. According to the authorities, this is evidenced by several indicators. But other regions in southwestern Germany are also frequently affected. Because the risk of contracting the virus rises and falls with the population of bank mice (also called wood voles) in the area.
If the number of bank rats increases, the risk of coming into contact with their droppings and thus infection with hantavirus also increases.
An indication of an imminent accumulation of hantavirus disease is if the beech has produced a lot of fruit in the previous year (beech fattening). As a result, bank mice have a good supply of food during the winter and can actually reproduce well into the winter months.
The number of bank branches observed also allows predictions to be made about the frequency of hantavirus infection.
What is hantavirus?
Hantavirus is an umbrella term that categorizes different types of viruses. Hantaviruses spread all over the world. The so-called pumala virus is especially prevalent in Central Europe. Infection with other subgroups of the virus is also possible in Germany, but less frequently.
How is the virus transmitted?
Hantavirus is transmitted by rodents such as bank mice and field mice. Viruses are shed via infected animals’ saliva, urine, and feces and can remain infectious for several days. People can become infected through inhalation – eg when passing dry stools.
Contact with contaminated materials (such as dust or dirt) with broken skin can also lead to infection. This can happen, for example, when gardening. Transmission is also possible through food contaminated with the feces of infected rodents.
What are the symptoms?
Hantavirus infection often has no symptoms, but it can also cause flu-like symptoms – such as fever, headache, and body aches. In addition, nausea and vomiting can sometimes occur. The kidneys can also be affected, including in acute renal failure. It usually takes two to four weeks for symptoms to appear.
How is infectious disease treated?
Hantavirus has been reported in Germany since 2001. To date there is no vaccine. Doctors can only treat patients’ symptoms. However, the infection is rarely fatal in Central Europe.
Where is the virus most prevalent?
Currently, cases of hantavirus infection are spreading, especially in southwestern Germany. Parts of the state of Baden-Württemberg were particularly affected, followed by Bavaria, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia.
How can you protect yourself?
According to experts, in order to protect themselves, people should avoid contact with rodent secretions and dust containing pathogens, especially in areas where there are a lot of beech forests – for example when working with wood in the forest and garden and when cleaning cellars, sheds, barns and stables.
Anyone who has to remove dead mice or mouse droppings should wear rubber gloves and a tight-fitting mouth and nose guard. You should not use a vacuum cleaner as it may spread viruses into the air. Thorough hygiene is also important: washing your hands carefully, and even better: taking a shower and washing your hair after cleaning work.