An outbreak of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in southern Argentina last fall that killed 11 of the 20 people infected may have featured the first known cases of person-to-person transmission of the disease.
Although many hantavirus species have been identified and found to cause illness in humans, extensive epidemiologic studies had failed to turn up any clear-cut evidence of transmission between infected people. Experts previously believed that the primary means by which humans contracted hantavirus infections, which are known to attack the lungs or kidneys, was inhalation of tiny particles of the fecal droppings of infected rodents.
Now, however, a team of Argentine and US researchers investigating the 1996 Argentine outbreak has found epidemiologic evidence that "strongly suggests" person-to-person transmission (Emerg Infect Dis. 1997;3:171-174). The outbreak, which began last September among residents or visitors of 3 towns in southern Argentina, later involved individuals who'd had contact with infected patients but