The continued emergence and re-emergence of pathogens represent an ongoing, sometimes major, threat to populations. Hantaviruses (family Bunyaviridae) and their associated human diseases were considered to be confined to Eurasia, but the occurrence of an outbreak in 1993–94 in the southwestern United States led to a great increase in their study among virologists worldwide. Well over 40 hantaviral genotypes have been described, the large majority since 1993, and nearly half of them pathogenic for humans. Hantaviruses cause persistent infections in their reservoir hosts, and in the Americas, human disease is manifest as a cardiopulmonary compromise, hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HCPS), with case-fatality ratios, for the most common viral serotypes, between 30% and 40%. Habitat disturbance and larger-scale ecological disturbances, perhaps including climate change, are among the factors that may have increased the human caseload of HCPS between 1993 and the present. We consider here the features that influence the structure of host population dynamics that may lead to viral outbreaks, as well as the macromolecular determinants of hantaviruses that have been regarded as having potential contribution to pathogenicity.