Pestilence Update

Panama sees rise in deadly hantavirus. Big increase in the number of cases of a rare virus over the last year.

Luke 21:11 includes pestilence of animal life, marine life, plant life and insect life. Increasing stress, disease and death among bio-diversity.

Panama sees rise in deadly hantavirus. Big increase in the number of cases of a rare virus over the last year.

Anne Gulland, global health security correspondent. 8 JANUARY 2019.

Visitors to the central American country of Panama are being urged to be vigilant after the country reported a big increase in the number of cases of a rare virus over the last year.

According to the World Health Organization the Panama ministry of health reported a total of 103 cases of hantavirus in 2018, compared to just over 20 in 2017 and fewer than 10 in 2016.

The majority of the cases – 99 – occurred in Los Santos Province with more than two thirds of the cases taking place between June and September.

Hantaviruses are a group of viruses spread by rodents such as rats, mice and voles and are acquired through contact with the droppings or saliva of infected animals. There is no evidence that the type of hantavirus circulating in Panama passes from human to human.

The disease can turn into two serious infections: haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Nearly half of those infected with the virus – 48 – have contracted the more serious pulmonary form of the disease and four of these have died.

WHO says that the increase in the number of cases could be up to greater numbers of rodents, more interaction between humans and animals or better reporting of cases.

Professor Daniel Bausch – director of the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Public Health England, and an expert in emerging infectious diseases – said the increase in the number of cases was probably due to ecological factors.

“Rodent numbers can change tenfold over a season if the conditions are right for them – if there’s a lot of rain that would lead to more food being available and they can procreate more,” he said.

Prof Bausch added that there was still little known about the disease.

“Hantaviruses are an under-recognised problem and we need more information about this particular virus. Some of the other viruses have been associated with a case fatality rate of up to about 50 per cent. They can be dangerous infections,” he said.

There are no specific therapeutics or vaccines for the disease – mainly because research is hard to undertake when the numbers affected are quite small – and treatment focuses on the symptoms.

WHO issued an alert on the virus in the run-up to World Youth Day taking place in Panama later this month, when the country will expect an influx of visitors. The disease mainly occurs in rural areas and WHO urged anyone taking part in “eco-tourism” should be vigilant.

In a statement it said: “While most usual tourism activities pose little or no risk of exposing travellers to rodents or their excreta, people who engage in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking should take precautions to reduce possible exposure to potentially infectious materials.”

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