Hantavirus outbreak is blamed for 13 deaths in Chile New strain of disease might be spreading


SANTIAGO, Chile -- An outbreak of hantavirus, which causes pneumonia and high fever, has killed 13 people and caused dozens more to be hospitalized in Chile in recent months, and health officials fear the virus is spreading to other countries in the region.

After five new cases of hantavirus infection were reported in the far north and south of Chile this month, the government announced a national health emergency, including measures intended to control the virus' spread.

Hantavirus, which is usually transmitted by field rodents or their droppings, causes pneumonia, respiratory distress and high fever. It can kill a patient quickly.

About 60 percent of those infected have died. Early detection is vital to saving lives.

The outbreak in Chile follows one in neighboring Argentina last year in which at least 12 deaths were attributed to a new strain of hantavirus that for the first time appears to have been spread from person to person.

Health Minister Alex Figueroa urged Chileans to remain calm and to take such precautions as avoiding contact with rodents and their burrows, sanitizing dwellings that are rodent-infested and safeguarding food from rodents.

"We have to learn to coexist with the virus, just as we learned to live with cholera, hepatitis and typhoid," Figueroa said.

Although person-to-person transmission of hantavirus is considered extremely rare, health officials and scientists have expressed fear that the hantavirus strain known as Andes, which was identified in southern Argentina last year, could be the one spreading in Chile.

Last week, health officials announced that a 38-year-old hotel worker had died of hantavirus in the town of Arica, which is close to the border with Peru and Bolivia.

The death caused panic in the border town of Tacna, Peru, where the city's health department declared a sanitation alert.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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