Today's guest blog entry is by Trent Wakenight, MA, public relations consortium coordinator for the Global Nexus of Animal and Public Health Project at Michigan State University.
Climate change continues to change the way we live, this time being linked to human health and the spread of hantavirus, a disease linked to mice and other rodents.
Cases of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, an illness caused by hantaviruses, have increased in humans in typically cold places such as Russia and Eastern Europe. A probable cause is rodents infected with hantaviruses that are better able to survive milder winter conditions. By some estimates, one in three rodents carries the viruses.
There are five types of hantavirus, and it can be contracted through human contact with infected rodents or their urine and droppings. Infection occurs when humans inhale particles of dried materials or urine. Early symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain and coughing. The infection can be fatal.
In 2007, cases of hantavirus infections in Russia topped 3,000 by mid-spring, following a mild winter. The increase was attributed to a rodent population that was 10 times higher than in previous years.
The virus has also been found in 10 states in the United States since its identification in 1993. An outbreak in Southwestern states that year affected 48 people with a mortality rate of 80 percent.
Wet, mild winters are thought to contribute to the disease spread, turning environmental issues into public health threats. Rodents are better able to survive, natural food supplies are more abundant and consequently the population is growing.
Humans at greatest risk are those involved in agricultural production, grain or feedlot operations, field biology or other places where rodent contact is likely. One study also found that 70 percent of those infected were exposed while cleaning homes or buildings where rodents had been living. Controlling for rodents in and around the home is the best strategy for preventing infection.