What Is Hantavirus and Why We Shouldn’t Worry About It

Amidst the growing public concern about the CoVID-19 outbreak, people on social media are now expressing their fears about a possible “new” pandemic—the hantavirus. The alarm came after a report broke out about a man from Yunnan Province in southwest China dying from the hantavirus. According to Global Times, the man was travelling on board a chartered bus to Shadong Province, along with 32 other people who were also tested after the incident.

Unlike the coronavirus, hantavirus is spread via direct contact with their host animal. Avoiding hantavirus is as simple as avoiding contact with rats and other rodents and their urine, droppings, and possible contact with their saliva. Here are the things you need to know about the hantavirus as outlined by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is hantavirus?

According to CDC, hantavirus is a family of diseases mostly by rodents and can cause different diseases in people around the globe. Each hantavirus disease has a specific rodent host. Hantavirus is not a new disease, as opposed to the word going around social media. It has been around for a long time, and probably even centuries, according to Dr. Tania Elliott from NYU Langone Health in Manhattan. The first known breakout was in the 1950s during the Korean war where more than 3000 American and Korean troops fell ill with renal failure, hemorrhage, and shock—all attributed to their exposure to the contaminated water of Hantan River in South Korea, thus the name hantavirus.

How is the virus transmitted?

The virus is transmitted via direct contact to the host rodent, their urine, feces, or saliva. People can also contract the hantavirus by touching that has been contaminated with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva and, then, touch their nose or mouth. Eating food contaminated by rodent urine, feces, or saliva may also transmit the virus. CDC emphasizes that there is no evidence that the virus can spread from one person to another and cannot be transmitted in any form of physical contact, such as touching or kissing a person with it, or from a health care worker who treated someone with it.

What are the symptoms of hantavirus?

The symptoms of hantavirus vary on the family of the virus. The “New World” hantaviruses in the Americas can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). The early symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle ache; and coughing and shortness of breath later on. The “Old World” hantaviruses, which common in Europe and Asia can cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS)The symptoms include intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, fever, chills, nausea, and blurred vision.

How is hantavirus treated and are there vaccines?

There are no specific treatments for hantavirus to date. It is best to bring the affected person to intensive care where they can be intubated and given oxygen therapy to help with their respiratory distress.  A vaccine was first developed in 1990, and to date, there are four vaccine candidates for hantavirus on first and second clinical trials. As of 2012, there are no approved vaccines for hantavirus to be used in both USA and Europe.

How do we avoid hantavirus?

Since the virus is contracted via direct contact with rodents, sanitation is key. Install traps to combat any rodent infestation at home, cover any spaces or gaps that can let rodents into your home, and keep your things and food in spaces that cannot be reached by rodents. Clean the surroundings regularly to ensure there are no rodents nor contamination from their urine, droppings, or saliva, and make sure to wear protective gears when doing so, and sanitize any item that might have been contaminated. Most importantly, continue practicing basic personal hygiene to ensure your safety from any potential bacterial or viral threats.

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