Earlier today, the death of a man in Yunnan, China was reported as being caused due to hantavirus, prompting some degree of alarmist coverage about the virus, and panic among civilians about a second possible viral outbreak. However, it is important to be fully aware of the specifics about the virus before alarming everyone and spreading major fear about it. Here, we look at what the hantavirus is, how might it spread, the diseases that it causes, how common it is, and exactly how worried should you be about the hantavirus.
What is Hantavirus?
Before everything else, what is important to note is that there have been no reports about the man who passed away hosting a novel strain of the hantavirus. Like all other virus genera known to mankind, the hantavirus has been a known causal factor behind two diseases — the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in North and South America, and haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) in Europe and Asia. The virus is spread primarily by four very specific species of rodents, and even their spread to humans is not under unrestricted conditions such as skin contact or aerosolised conditions.
Chances of getting the HPS is one in 13 million — a statistic that should be reassuring.
How is it contracted?
Diseases caused due to exposure to the hantavirus can be as serious as any viral disease has the potential to be. The US centres for disease control and prevention (CDC) states clearly that the greatest risk of contracting either of the two hantavirus-related diseases is by being in contact with one of the four following types of rodents — the cotton rat, the white-footed mouse, the rice rat and the deer mouse. The most common way of contracting the virus, as is stated, is by humans inhaling air contaminated by particles from droppings, urine and saliva of the four aforementioned rodents.
How serious or fatal is it?
In cases of HFRS, the US CDC states that the fatality rate can be less than 1 percent for certain sub-familiae of the hantavirus, and at the most severe, higher than 15 percent. As for the HPS, the CDC states, "Previous observations of patients that develop HPS from New World Hantaviruses recover completely. No chronic infection has been detected in humans. Some patients have experienced longer than expected recovery times, but the virus has not been shown to leave lasting effects on the patient."
A 2017 public service resource by UC Davis School of Medicine in California states that the chances of getting the HPS is one in 13 million — a statistic that should be reassuring. This is further supported by CDC resource that states that only two 'outbreaks' have ever been spotted for the hantavirus — the first confirming 10 cases of the hantavirus at Yosemite National Park in August 2012, and the second confirming 17 cases in 11 US states.
Should you panic?
Long story short — no, you shouldn't. While the timing and the circumstances of the death (due to the coronavirus pandemic) is not the best, it is important to not give in to alarmist reports, and refrain yourself from panicking. While it is true that the hantavirus has proved to have led to deaths, it has over time been certified to be non-contagious. As a result, the solitary death should not make you spread the word of a potential pandemic in the making.
However, as always, it is important to remain alert to hygiene essentials. If you spot any rat infestation nearby, be sure to take steps and actions against it. Steer clear of any contaminated area that you can visibly spot, and inform the authorities if you spot such an infestation.