Hantaviruses as Zoonotic Pathogens in Germany
Background: Hantavirus disease is a zoonosis of increasing clinical importance. A new incidence peak was reached in Germany in 2012, with more than 2800 reported cases. These viruses are transmitted from small mammals to human beings. The disease begins with high fever and non-pathognomonic manifestations that can end in shock and organ failure. Methods: This article is based on a selective literature search, on the authors’ experiences at the National Referral Laboratory for Hantavirus Infections (Nationales Konsiliarlaboratorium für Hantaviren), and on published recommendations from Germany and abroad. Results: Two hantavirus species cause clinically relevant infections in Germany. Puumala virus, which is transmitted by bank voles, causes large outbreaks of disease every 2 to 3 years in the southwestern and western regions of Germany and in the Bavarian Forest. Dobrava-Belgrad virus, transmitted by striped field mice, causes infections in the north and east of the country. Serological tests are available for primary and confirmatory diagnosis; moreover, viral nucleic acids can be amplified in the early phase of illness and compared with the viral nucleic acids from the reservoir hosts of the corresponding type of infection. Infections with American types of hantavirus have ca. 35% case fatality, and hantaviruses from southeastern Europe and Asia are also highly pathogenic; in contrast, the febrile illnesses caused by hantaviruses in Germany are usually relatively mild. Conclusion: When persons living in high-risk areas present with fever of unknown origin or with renal dysfunction of unknown origin, physicians should consider the possibility of a hantavirus infection and should initiate the appropriate diagnostic evaluation.