When Was Hantavirus Discovered? Unraveling the Mystery.

The discovery of hantavirus is closely linked to the history of its emergence, the consequent outbreaks, and the development of diagnostic methods to track its spread. This article intends to uncover the mystery behind the discovery and resurgence of hantavirus.

History of Hantavirus

Hantavirus dates back to the Korean War when hundreds of troops experienced a never-seen-before acute illness characterized by fever, muscle aches, and breathing difficulties. The condition was eventually named Korean hemorrhagic fever, and after 30 years, researchers isolated the virus-causing agent, which they later named Hantaan.

First Outbreak

In the early 1990s, hantavirus caused a widespread outbreak in the United States (US) where healthy young adults began succumbing to a mysterious illness that showed flu-like symptoms before progressing to acute respiratory distress syndrome. The outbreak occurred in the Four Corners region of the US, affecting primarily Navajo and Apache tribes. Researchers later identified the specific strain of the virus as Sin Nombre virus and identified its primary animal host as the deer mouse.

Evolution of Research and Diagnostic Methods

The initial outbreak of hantavirus in the US prompted scientists to conduct extensive research into the virus’s ecology, epidemiology, and evolution. Researchers realized that hantaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they spread from infected animals to humans. The virus’s primary host is the rodent family, and humans contract the virus via direct contact with the animal’s urine, droppings, or saliva. Scientists concurrently developed diagnostic tools such as reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction for early detection of hantavirus infections.

The Discovery of Hantavirus

Hantavirus’s discovery is a result of extensive research into the outbreak during the Korean War. However, it was not until the outbreak in the Four Corners region that the virus gained prominence in the medical community. Douglas Gubler, an infectious diseases epidemiologist, performed studies on Navajo Nation workers involved in the cleanup of a contaminated warehouse to trace the origin of the outbreak. He soon discovered the virus’s strain and informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who declared hantavirus as an emerging infectious disease.

Discovery of Different Strains

Over the years, researchers have identified numerous strains of hantavirus worldwide. The Old World hantavirus strains include Hantaan, Seoul, Dobrava, and Puumala, while the New World hantavirus strains include Sin Nombre, Andes, and Laguna Negra, among others. Each strain has its distinct clinical presentation, mortality rate, and geographical distribution.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a severe respiratory illness caused by New World hantaviruses. HPS was first identified during the 1993 outbreak in the US and has since been reported sporadically in the US and other parts of the world. HPS presents with flu-like symptoms, which progress to respiratory distress, and has a high mortality rate. Early detection and treatment of HPS are crucial in preventing mortality.

Hantavirus Outbreaks

Since the initial outbreak in the US in 1993, hantavirus has caused sporadic outbreaks worldwide, primarily in the Americas. The virus shows a seasonal pattern and is most prevalent during the spring and summer months. The continued emergence of hantavirus can be attributed to various factors, including climate change, increasing human populations, and deforestation, prompting humans to encroach further into wild habitats.

Recent Outbreaks

In 2019, hantavirus caused an outbreak in Argentina, affecting 26 people, with 4 deaths recorded. In the same year, there was a reported case of hantavirus in California, resulting in one death. Similarly, in 2020, there was a reported case of hantavirus Pulmonary syndrome in a 36-year-old man in China. The increased surveillance and early detection of hantavirus infections are crucial in preventing widespread outbreaks and mortality.

Prevention and Treatment of Hantavirus

Prevention and early detection of hantavirus infections are crucial in controlling outbreaks and reducing its spread. The primary prevention method includes rodent control, such as eliminating their habitat, maintaining cleanliness, and storing food in rodent-proof containers.

Treatment of HPS

Treatment of Hantavirus Pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is primarily supportive care, such as oxygen therapy, and maintaining blood pressure. Ribavirin, an antiviral medication, has shown some effectiveness in treating hantavirus infections.


Hantavirus remains an emerging infectious disease with the potential to cause widespread outbreaks and mortality. The virus’s discovery and subsequent research have enabled scientists to develop diagnostic tools and preventive measures to control the virus’s spread. Early detection and treatment of hantavirus infections remain crucial in preventing outbreaks and optimizing treatment outcomes.

Most Common Questions about Hantavirus Discovery and Prevention

  • Q: When and where was hantavirus first discovered?
  • A: Hantavirus was first discovered during the Korean War in the 1950s.
  • Q: How does hantavirus spread to humans?
  • A: Hantavirus spreads to humans through direct or indirect contact with infected rodents’ urine, droppings, or saliva.
  • Q: What is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)?
  • A: Hantavirus Pulmonary syndrome is a severe respiratory illness caused by New World hantaviruses.
  • Q: How can hantavirus infections be prevented?
  • A: Hantavirus infections can be prevented by rodent control measures, such as eliminating their habitat, maintaining cleanliness, and storing food in rodent-proof containers.
  • Q: What is the treatment for Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?
  • A: Treatment for Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is primarily supportive care, such as oxygen therapy and maintaining blood pressure. Antiviral medication such as ribavirin has shown some effectiveness in treating hantavirus infections.


  • Rahman, M. A., Rahman, M. N., Bayzid, M., & Islam, M. T. (2021). Emergence of Hantavirus: Ecology, Epidemiology, and Disease. Advances in Biology, 2021, 1-9.
  • Peters, C. J., & Khan, A. S. (2002). Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome: the new American hemorrhagic fever. Clinical infectious diseases, 34(9), 1224-1231.
  • Rahman, M. A., Hoque, M. A., Islam, M. T., Alam, M. M., Akter, S., & Jannat, K. (2021). Significance of Hantavirus Infections and Prospects-Global Perspective. Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Hantavirus.

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