Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Pathogenesis of an emerging infectious disease

Am J Pathol. 1995 Mar;146(3):552-79.


A recent outbreak of a severe pulmonary disease in the southwestern United States was etiologically linked to a previously unrecognized hantavirus. The virus has been isolated from its major reservoir, the deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus, and recently named Sin Nombre virus. Clinically, the disease has become known as the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Since May 1993, 44 fatal cases of HPS have been identified through clinicopathological review and immunohistochemical (IHC) testing of tissues from 273 patients who died of an unexplained noncardiogenic pulmonary edema. In 158 cases for which suitable specimens were available, serological testing and/or reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) amplification of extracted RNA was also performed. IHC, serological, and PCR results were concordant for virtually all HPS and non-HPS patients when more than one assay was performed. The prodromal illness of HPS is similar to that of many other viral diseases. Consistent hematological features include thrombocytopenia, hemoconcentration, neutrophilic leukocytosis with a left shift, and reactive lymphocytes. Pulmonary histopathological features were similar in most of the fatal HPS cases (40/44) and consisted of an interstitial pneumonitis with a variable mononuclear cell infiltrate, edema, and focal hyaline membranes. In four cases, however, pulmonary features were significantly different and included diffuse alveolar damage and variable degrees of severe air space disorganization. IHC analysis showed widespread presence of hantaviral antigens in endothelial cells of the microvasculature, particularly in the lung. Hantaviral antigens were also observed within follicular dendritic cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. Hantaviral inclusions were observed in endothelial cells of lungs by thinsection electron microscopy, and their identity was verified by immunogold labeling. Virus-like particles were seen in pulmonary endothelial cells and macrophages. HPS is a newly recognized, often fatal disease, with a spectrum of microscopic morphological changes, which may be an important cause of severe and fatal illness presenting as adult respiratory distress syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigen-Antibody Reactions
  • Antigens, Viral / analysis
  • Female
  • Hantavirus / genetics
  • Hantavirus / immunology
  • Hantavirus / isolation & purification
  • Hantavirus Infections / complications
  • Hantavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Hantavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • Syndrome


  • Antigens, Viral
  • RNA, Viral