Increase of hantavirus cases in South America
Several countries in South America have recently reported increased detections of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). While numerous sporadic cases and small clusters of HPS cases have previously been reported in most of South America, large outbreaks have been rare and have usually been associated with human disturbance and land-use changes or with unusual environmental events such as increased rainfall or periodic bamboo flowering. Although most hantaviruses are not spread by person to person transmission, the Andean hantavirus has previously been reported to have spread by very close personal contact.
As of 19th December 2018, the Argentina Ministry of Health and Social Development reported an increase in HPS cases in Epuyén, Chubut Province. Since then there have been a total of 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of HPS in Epuyén, nine of whom died. Potential human-to-human transmission is under investigation in this cluster. In Argentina, four endemic regions have been identified: North (Salta, Jujuy), Centro (Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Entre Ríos), Northeast (Misiones) and Sur (Neuquén, Río Negro, and Chubut). Between 2013 and 2018, an average of 100 confirmed cases were registered annually. Between 2013 and 2018, 111 confirmed deaths from hantavirus were reported in Argentina.
Hantavirus has previously been detected in many regions of Chile and is considered endemic in the south of the country. A confirmed case has been reported in Chile with links to the Chubut cluster in Argentina. This case had travel history to an affected area in Argentina and later hosted and cared for a confirmed case from Argentina. This is the first confirmed case of hantavirus in the Los Lagos region of Chile in 2019. During 2018, there were 8 cases of hantavirus in Chile, including 2 deaths.
The Panama Ministry of Health has reported an increase in cases of hantavirus infection in Los Santos Province, Republic of Panama. During 2018, a total of 103 confirmed cases of hantavirus have been reported, 99 of which were reported in Los Santos Province. In Los Santos Province, 51 cases were classified as hantavirus fever without pulmonary syndrome and 48 cases were classified as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, including four deaths.
World Youth Day will be hosted in the Republic of Panama on 22nd - 27th January 2019. This mass gathering will take place predominantly in Panama City, while side events will occur in other provinces. Though a seasonal increase of hantavirus during the month of January has not been previously documented, increases in cases have been related to outdoor and agricultural activities in rural environments. Participants in the World Youth Day should be provided with recommendations and guidance on how to take appropriate precautionary measures to reduce their risk of infection.
Advice for travellers
Most usual tourism activities will not bring you into contact with rodents or their droppings. However, people who take part in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking should try to reduce possible contact with rodents or rodent droppings, urine, saliva or nests which are potentially infectious materials.
Information on hantavirus for the general public is available on the HPSC website.