Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a relatively rare, but frequently fatal disease associated with New World hantaviruses, most commonly Sin Nombre and Andes viruses in North and South America, respectively. It is characterized by fever and the sudden, rapid onset of severe respiratory distress and cardiogenic shock, which can be fatal in up to 50% of cases. Currently there are no approved antiviral therapies or vaccines for the treatment or prevention of HPS. A major obstacle in the development of effective medical countermeasures against highly pathogenic agents like the hantaviruses is recapitulating the human disease as closely as possible in an appropriate and reliable animal model. To date, the only animal model that resembles HPS in humans is the Syrian hamster model. Following infection with Andes virus, hamsters develop HPS-like disease which faithfully mimics the human condition with respect to incubation period and pathophysiology of disease. Perhaps most importantly, the sudden and rapid onset of severe respiratory distress observed in humans also occurs in hamsters. The last several years has seen an increase in studies utilizing the Andes virus hamster model which have provided unique insight into HPS pathogenesis as well as potential therapeutic and vaccine strategies to treat and prevent HPS. The purpose of this article is to review the current understanding of HPS disease progression in Syrian hamsters and discuss the suitability of utilizing this model to evaluate potential medical countermeasures against HPS.
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