Hantavirus is a disease which is carried by Rodents. Individuals, who come in contact with rodents or the rodents’ bi-products, are at risk of contact with the Hantavirus. As a result of Hantavirus contact, a Human is at risk for contracting Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS.)
Hantavirus Pulmonary Disease (HPS) is a rare but serious disease that humans can contract through contact with infected rodents or their urine, saliva, blood, or droppings. Since HPS was first identified in the United States in 1993, there have been 62 cases in California residents and over 600 cases nationally.
This article will discuss the Hantavirus Pulmonary Disease, its symptoms, its treatment, how it can be transmitted in the workplace, and the types of work and work environments where it is likely to contract industrially-related Hantavirus.
Is It Important to Know About How Hantavirus Pulmonary Disease Can Be Work-Related?
Yes. If a Worker contracts Hantavirus Pulmonary Disease in the workplace, they would be able to file a workers’ compensation claim and pursue workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ Compensation benefits can range from monetary disability benefits, medical care, vocational retraining benefits to death benefits for dependents in the event of a fatality.
What is the Hantavirus?
Seoul Virus is a type of Hantavirus found in many parts of the world, including the United States.
The Hantavirus is carried and spread by rodents. Specifically, it is spread by Brown or Norway rats. They can be found in the wild, kept as pets, or bred in commercial or home-based facilities. OSHA
How is the Hantavirus Transmitted?
Hantaviruses are transmitted to humans from the dried droppings, urine, or saliva of mice and rats. OSHA. The saliva transmission can be the result of a rodent “bite” as well.
Transmission can be through skin, i.e. bare skin such as abrasions or cuts. Transmission can be done through mucous membrane. The mucous membrane is the layer that lines many cavities and structures in the body that are exposure to air in the environment. This include the nose, the mouth and the lungs. See Harvard Medical School Medical Dictionary of Health Terms
What is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)?
Per the CDC, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease in humans caused by infection with Hantaviruses.
People who become infected with this virus often exhibit relatively mild or no disease but some will develop a form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome with death in approximately one to two percent of cases (one to two deaths out of every 100 cases of hemorrhagic fever). OSHA.
Per the CDC, there are two stage of symptoms: early and late.
“Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms.
Late Symptoms “[f]our to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a “…tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face” as the lungs fill with fluid.”
Per the CDC, the mortality rate of HPS is 38 percent.
How is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome Assessed?
If Hantavirus Infection is suspected, blood work will be done. Further, the Patient will be monitored with repeated testing. CDC
What Are the Courses of Treatment?
Per CDC, “[t]here is no specific treatment or cure for hantavirus infection. Treatment of patients with HPS remains supportive in nature. Patients should receive appropriate, broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy while awaiting confirmation of a diagnosis of HPS. Care during the initial stages of the disease should include antipyretics and analgesia as needed.
If there is a high degree of suspicion of HPS, patients should be immediately transferred to an emergency department or intensive care unit (ICU) for close monitoring and care.
Patients presenting with fulminant illness due to HPS have a poor prognosis despite ICU care. ICU management should include careful assessment, monitoring and adjustment of volume status and cardiac function, including inotropic and vasopressor support if needed. Fluids should be administered carefully due to the potential for capillary leakage. Supplemental oxygen should be administered if patients become hypoxic. Equipment and materials for intubation and mechanical ventilation should be readily available since onset of respiratory failure may be precipitous.”
How is Hantavirus Occupationally Transmitted?
As noted previously, rodents can shed the virus and infect people who have contact with their urine, droppings, or saliva.
There are a number of work activities which can place Workers at risk for HPS. These activities generally involve either working with rodents or working around where rodents reside or visit.
Examples of at risk activities are as follows: sweeping out a barn or other ranch buildings, working with mice such as trapping and studying mice, using compressed air and dry sweep to clean up wood waste in a sawmill, handling grain contaminated with mouse droppings and urine, entering a barn ingested with mice, panting or harvesting field crops, occupying previously vacant dwellings, disturbing rodent-infested areas, living in dwellings with a sizeable indoor rodent population. See CCOHS Note: a number of these activities, in certain circumstances, can be considered as an industrial exposure.
Have There Been Cases of Hantavirus Infection in the Workplace?
Yes. There have been some studies that have discussed possible industrial exposure.
One found a suspected exposure to workers at a Utility Company Substation. The Substation contained workstations. The Substation was infested by rodents. In that particular case study, there had been a disruption of the infested area when ceiling panels were replaced. This disruption may have caused rodent droppings fall on a worker’s desk. These dropping exposed the Worker to the Hantavirus.
Another case study involved Workers at the Yosemite National Park. Data from that study indicated work-related Hantavirus Exposures was reported among laborers (50%); electrician and maintenance workers (47%); medical, fire, police, search and rescue personnel (44%); and rooms keepers and hospitality workers (44%.) Work-Related Hantavirus Exposures at Yosemite National Park: Key Findings and Recommendations Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Public Health www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/OHB August 2013 (for public release)
In another Journal Report, in Yosemite, it was noted with respect to a 2012 outbreak that the “ hantavirus outbreak was unusual because it was associated with exposure to rodents in a specific type of housing.” Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Mar; 20(3): 386–393.
doi: 10.3201/eid2003.131581 PMCID: PMC3944872 PMID: 24565589 Hantavirus Infections among Overnight Visitors to Yosemite National Park, California, USA, 2012
Jonathan J. Núñez, Curtis L. Fritz, Barbara Knust, Danielle Buttke, Barryett Enge, Mark G. Novak, Vicki Kramer, Lynda Osadebe, Sharon Messenger, César G. Albariño, Ute Ströher, Michael Niemela, Brian R. Amman, David Wong, Craig R. Manning, Stuart T. Nichol, Pierre E. Rollin, Dongxiang Xia, James P. Watt, Duc J. Vugia, and for the Yosemite Hantavirus Outbreak Investigation Team1
What If I Need Legal Advice?
If you would like a free consultation concerning any workers’ compensation case, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 28 years. Contact us today for more information. Click Here.