It’s been reported that a man from China’s Yunnan Province has died after testing positive for hantavirus, a rare type of virus transmitted from rodents to humans.This news has led some on social media to start panicking that another viral pandemic is ready to make the rounds, even as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has infected at least 387,382 people across the globe, and killed 16,767 and counting.
What is hantavirus?
Hantaviruses are viruses that normally cause infection in rats and other rodents, but do not cause disease in them.
It is possible for such viruses to be transmitted to humans through a rodent’s urine, saliva or faeces, though this is rare.
Some strains – if they are transmitted to humans – can cause fatal diseases like hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a rare respiratory disease which on the face of it would appear not too dissimilar to Covid-19.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome include fever, cough, headache, lethargy, and shortness of breath, which rapidly deteriorates into respiratory failure, even with the aid of mechanical ventilation.
The disease is thought to have a fatality rate of 36%, though cases remain rare.
Should I be worried?
No. Hantavirus is highly unlikely to be the next global pandemic.
Hantaviruses have been recorded for decades, and are not a new phenomenon; a single human death from the virus is not cause for concern, and hardly constitutes an ‘outbreak’.
The already uncommon viruses are rarely spread between humans. Although human-to-human transmission of a similar virus was reported in South America in both 2005 and 2019, hantaviruses have almost entirely been linked to human contact with rodent excrement.
Normally, news of a man’s death from hantavirus complications wouldn’t make for compelling news. But given hantavirus’ status as a relative unknown that looks scary written down, and that the victim came from China – where Covid-19 is thought to have originated – it all makes for some must-read headlines in this age of uncertainty.