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Reports of Hantavirus infection in India raise concerns

Viruses have been implicated in a number of human diseases such as AIDS, yellow fever, mumps, chicken pox, measles, rubella, polio, hepatitis, warts, influenza, common cold and even certain forms of cancer. Scientists have now // reported that a potentially life threatening hantavirus infection may "possibly" be present among Indian population.

The findings...indicate the possible presence of hantavirus infection in the human population of India presenting both as asymptomatic and symptomatic infections, a team of scientists led by S Chandy from the Department of Clinical Virology, Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, who carried out the study, said.

The report is the first of its kind in India showing evidence of Hantavirus infection in the population. Researchers analyzed a group of 152 patients with symptoms of fever for antibodies against Hantavirus, out of which 23 (14.7 per cent) were positive for the infection. In contrast, only 5.7 per cent of healthy blood donors tested were positive.

The virus is known to be associated with a respiratory disorder known as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), characterized by respiratory distress and shortage of breath. Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and muscle pain are also present.

Hantaviruses have been associated with two human diseases - haemorrhagic fever with affected kidneys and that with affected lungs. So far there had not been any report of infection in India. Working or living in a rodent infested setting or breathing dust after cleaning rodent droppings/ nests increases the chances of exposure to the virus. This is a significant study. Though the infection appears mild, who knows there may be cases of severe infections also, Anoop Misra, Professor, Department of Medicine, AIIMS, said.

Cross reactivity between the antibodies tested can also be responsible for the observation. More studies based on molecular techniques should be used to pr ove the presence of the infection.

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