A man in China died from hantavirus and the news has caused some alarm - but what is this virus?

As the world rallies against the Covid-19 pandemic, news from China involving another virus has caused alarm in some parts.

According to reports from the Chinese province Yunnan, a man died a few days after he had tested positive for hantavirus. He had been travelling back to Shandong Province for work, according to a tweet from China's Global Times.

Thirty-two more people who were on the bus, were also tested, but the results of their tests were not clear.

The news has caused some panic on social media, as people speculate about the origin of the virus - drawing parallels with the coronavirus which had its first cases in Wuhan, China.

But hantavirus is nothing like the latest strain of coronavirus – let's look at the facts.

What is the hantavirus?

Hantaviruses are viruses spread by rodents. There are several strains of hantaviruses, which can cause an illness known as Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a respiratory illness that starts with flu-like symptoms.

How does this virus spread?

A hantavirus is only spread through the rodents to humans and can’t be spread from human to human.

It is therefore only possible to get sick from this virus directly from a rat infestation – tiny particles of rat droppings, urine or saliva can be inhaled when stirred up into the air, or when directly handled with bare hands and then touching the face and nose.

The World Health Organization says cases of human hantavirus infection usually occur in rural areas – forests, fields, and farms – where sylvatic rodents hosting the virus might be found.

Humans can also be infected with hantavirus when bitten by a rodent. The following activities can put people at risk for HPS:

  • Improper cleaning of rodent infestations and nests.
  • Cleaning any shed, cabin, garage or building that was closed for a prolonged period.
  • Working in areas where there might be rodent infestations such as barns.

It is therefore best to avoid the risk by wearing a protective mask when cleaning rodent nests and droppings up with a broom, to avoid inhaling the particles stirred up into the air.

What are the symptoms of HPS?

When you get infected with a hantavirus, you might suffer from HPS. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Abdominal cramps

After ten days, fluid may start forming in the lungs, which may cause fatal respiratory failure.

Where there any outbreaks in the past?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the following outbreaks were listed:

  • March 2002 in the Republic of Panama
  • September 2012 in Yosemite Park, US
  • January 2019 in the Republic of Panama and the Argentine Republic

Image credit: Unsplash

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