Understanding the Complex Relationship between the Human Pathogen Hantavirus and its Rodent Reservoirs Underpins a Rational Disease Control Strategy
Hantaviruses commonly infect rodents in which they do not cause any significant symptoms of disease. In contrast, humans serve occasionally as a dead-end host when they inadvertently become infected through the bite of an infectious rodent or via contact with its urine, faeces and/or saliva. The virus was first recognized in the 1970s as a cause of severe haemorrhagic fever. The outcome is fatal in up to 50% of cases due to renal or pulmonary failure. At present, there is no preventive or curative treatment. Current research aims to determine the possible role of anthropogenic events in disease outbreaks and to explain how hantaviruses persist in rodent reservoirs. In seeking effective therapies, focus is drawn to the immunity of these natural hosts which permits infection but without causing pathology. If this protective response could be harnessed by artificial means in humans, this may provide a rational basis for vaccine or drug design.