Rats Infect Convicts with Hantavirus in Chilean Prison

Feb 10, 2012 | Katharina Schwan | Outbreak News

In the city of Concepción, Chile the inmates at El Manzano prison are under close observation after two died, and ten started displaying symptoms of Hantavirus. After a third individual, who was camping on the outskirts of Concepción, died of the virus, the Ministry of Health, headed by Jaime Mañalich, declared a public health alert on Monday for the entire Bío Bío region.

Mañalich blames wildfires in the Southern Bío Bío and Aruacanía regions for driving the rats out of their natural habitats and into populated areas. Families residing on camping sites near the prison are especially vulnerable to the disease because many live in poorer sanitary conditions and depend on the contaminated water of the Andalién River.

In an effort to control the outbreak of the disease, health staff will adopt a number of safety measures, such as blocking rodents from entering the rain water drains leading into the prison and educating campers on proper sanitation practices. Additionally, officials will disperse cleaning kits, chlorine, and protective masks to the most vulnerable populations in the region.

The protocol decreed by the health authorities states that any individual presenting flu-like symptoms should be transferred to the nearest health center immediately for serological testing.

Hantavirus is a potentially fatal disease spread by inhaling or ingesting urine or feces from an infected rodent, particularly deer mice. Early symptoms are similar to the flu and include chills, fever, and muscle aches. After a short period of remission, symptoms worsen to include a dry cough and shortness of breath, as the lungs fill with fluid. Once the disease reaches the lungs, lung and kidney failure are serious potential complications that lead to death in more than fifty percent of patients.

In order to prevent infection with Hantavirus, individuals should avoid exposure to rodent urine and droppings. This is particularly important for hikers and campers, since exposure is more likely in this environment. Additionally, it is important to drink only disinfected water and to keep the home clean and free of rodent nesting sites. 

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