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Dangerous hantavirus: how to protect yourself
Hantavirus infections are currently increasing in Germany. The viruses are excreted by infected rodents, especially the vole, through saliva, faeces and urine. The transmission to humans takes place either via the respiratory tract or by smear infections. Experts explain how to protect yourself from infections.
More and more hantavirus infections
There is currently an increased risk of Hantaviurs infections in various regions of Germany. These viruses are probably unknown to most German citizens and usually only a few hundred people in Germany develop an infection each year. In some years, however, the spread of viruses has increased significantly, which is accompanied by a massive increase in the number of infections reported.
Infection numbers fluctuate from year to year
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has currently noticed a significant increase in Hantavirus infections compared to the previous year, with individual regions such as Baden-Württemberg being particularly badly affected.
According to the "Süddeutscher Zeitung" (SZ), more than 450 cases have been reported in the southwestern German state since the beginning of the year, far more than in the whole of Germany last year.
The numbers fluctuate from year to year: While 282 infections were reported nationwide in 2016, there were a total of 2,824 cases in 2012.
In 2017, the experts from the Baden-Württemberg State Health Office now expect the spread of infections to increase again.
By mid-May, 607 Hanta infections had been reported to the RKI nationwide.
In parts of Bavaria, for example in the Deggendorf district, attention is currently drawn to the increased risk of such infections.
Causes of the increased virus activity
The beech forests in many regions of Baden-Württemberg form a "endemic area for Hantaviruses and have experienced several Hantavirus epidemics in recent years," according to the State Health Office.
This is where the main transmitters of the viruses live, the red vole (other types of mouse also serve as hosts for the viruses). These feed preferably on beech nuts. If there are a particularly large number of beech nuts in a year, the mice can then reproduce extremely and with them the Hantaviruses.
"The frequency of the disease varies from year to year and is probably dependent on the density and the contamination of the local rodent population," explains the RKI.
Viruses are excreted by infected rodents
"The viruses are excreted from infected rodents via saliva, urine and faeces and can remain infectious for some time," wrote the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) on its website.
"The transmission to humans takes place either through the respiratory tract through inhalation of virus-containing dust or aerosols (droplet infection) or through smear infections on the hands after contact with living or dead rodents or their excretions," it continues there.
The pathogens common in this country cause flu-like symptoms when infected, with high fever, headache, abdominal pain and back pain, reports the RKI.
In a further course, a drop in blood pressure and finally kidney dysfunction can also lead to acute kidney failure, the experts warn in a leaflet.
However, fatalities are rather rare among the European Hantavirus types, in contrast to the virus variants that are common in North and South America.
According to the RKI, hantaviruses are generally found worldwide. The name is derived from the Korean border river Hantan, where during the Korean War in the early 1950s, more than 3,000 soldiers fell ill with a severe hemorrhagic fever.
How to protect yourself
The RKI also explains how to protect yourself: "You can reduce the risk of a Hantavirus infection by avoiding contact with rodents and their excretions and by taking certain precautions."
According to the experts, this includes “above all preventing rodents from entering the living area and its immediate surroundings.”
These measures should primarily be implemented in known endemic areas if rodent infestation has been identified or if activities are carried out in locations where rodents are expected to occur.
The LGL Bayern points out that when working in rooms (shed, cellar, attic, garden shed) in which mice live, but also outdoors, e.g. when composting or woodworking, special care is required.
“Dust generation should be avoided during cleaning work by moistening beforehand. If there is visible mouse infestation, gloves and, if necessary, mouth protection should be worn. ”(Ad)