Reports of a person in China dying due to a virus called Hantavirus have spread panic at a time when the world is battling the pandemic of novel COVID-19, which began in China. It is understandable why the virus would cause panic, but is there any need to worry about it?
First, let's look at where the virus comes from, and what it really is.
What Is The Hantavirus?
Hantavirus is an extremely rare type of virus that infects humans through dust contaminated by the saliva, urine or faeces of a rodent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It causes a disease that attacks the heart and kills about 36-40 per cent of patients, but it doesn’t spread from person to person. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headaches, coughing, nausea and vomiting. Some patients can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms, and it can take up to six weeks from the time of exposure for symptoms to appear.
Is This A New Virus?
The disease has been reported in North America since 1993, but Canada only sees approximately three cases a year and the U.S. has recorded about 35 annually, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health. Other strains of the disease have been identified in Europe and Asia since the 1950s.
In May 1993, a hantavirus outbreak occurred in an area between Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. A 2012 outbreak in Yosemite sickened 10 people. In seven states, 17 people were infected in a 2017 outbreak.
From 1993 to 2017, there were only 728 confirmed hantavirus cases in the United States, with most being non-fatal, according to CDC data. “Hantavirus is not new, nor is it spread [person to person],” CDC Kenya tweeted, in response to the panic around the virus.
Will It Cause A Pandemic?
No, the world is not about to get hit with a hantavirus pandemic, too. Unlike the coronavirus — which is believed to spread from person to person through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes — the hantavirus is primarily spread by contact with rats and their urine, faeces or saliva.
In fact, the CDC notes that, to date, “no cases of HPS (hantavirus pulmonary syndrome) have been reported in the United States in which the virus was transmitted from one person to another.” So avoiding the hantavirus basically comes down to avoiding contact with rodents or eating them.
People can become sick if they eat food contaminated by urine, droppings or saliva from an infected rodent, as well. And in rare cases, the virus can be spread if a rodent carrying the virus bites someone.
But overall, the virus is so rare that the chances of it even reaching an outbreak stage currently is close to impossible. An occasional case or two is nothing to worry about - just focus on the current pandemic protocols instead of worrying about something that isn't a threat!