What Is Hantavirus and Can it Cause a New Epidemic?
While the world is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, the recent news of a new virus, hantavirus from China, may seem intimidating.
What is it, and should we fear a new epidemic? In this article, we will answer the most relevant questions about hantavirus.
What is Hantavirus?
Hantaviruses are a genus of human and animal viruses from the Hantaviridae family of the Bunyavirales order. The generic term for hantaviruses is roboviruses, viruses that can be transmitted by rodents. Another variety of roboviruses are arenaviruses. The first strain of hantavirus was discovered in the 1970s.
Where and How Did the First Case of Hantavirus Occur in 2020?
According to the Global Times, on March 23, 2020, a man from Yunnan Province, who was going on a charter bus to Shandong Province to work, died The Chinese authorities also checked 32 other passengers who were on the same bus as the deceased to check if they were infected. According to reports, no new infected were reported, that is, the situation seemed to have calmed down.
However, according to authorities about 200 cases of the virus are registered annually in Yunnan Province, that is, it existed earlier.
Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that a newly identified case can lead to serious consequences.
Where Did the Case of Hantavirus in China Come From?
Hantaviruses are detected worldwide in wild rodents that spread the virus throughout their lives through urine and excrement. Transmission occurs between rodents.
According to virologists, this disease is common in Chinese villages from May to June and from October to December. It is caused by contact with rats or by eating rodent-contaminated food.
It is also known that some Chinese eat too exotic dishes. For example, there are rumors that ‘Three Squeaks’ exists in China. It involves eating live newborn mice or rats. The rodent emits the first squeak when it is taken with a stick, the second one when it is dipped in soy sauce, and it squeaks for the third time when it is eaten (hence the name ‘Three Squeaks’). Despite the fact that rumors about this have been circulating on the Internet over the past decade, there is no sufficient evidence of its real existence.
But the Chinese passion for exotic dishes is well known. In particular, the market vendors in Wuhan, from where the coronavirus is believed to have originated, sold the meat of many exotic animals such as snakes and wild birds.
How is Hantavirus Transmitted?
There are several ways the virus enters the body:
- People can become infected by inhaling fumes from rodent secretions, for example, in a dusty room.
- Drinking contaminated water and food.
- Direct contact with rodents (but infection from a bite is unlikely).
What Are the Symptoms of Hantavirus?
The incubation period of this virus is about 2 weeks, which is similar to coronavirus. In mild forms, the disease can be asymptomatic. In severe clinical manifestations, the following symptoms occur: fever, headache, abdominal pain, hypotension, slow heart rate (bradycardia), renal failure, seizures, severe neurological symptoms and a rash.
What is the Mortality Rate from Hantavirus?
Mortality ranges from 1 to 10 percent, but in the US it was about 40 percent. However, since this is a common disease, the above figures are estimates and may not reflect the actual situation.
Did Epidemics Caused by Hantavirus Previously Exist?
The first major outbreak caused by hantaviruses is considered to be ‘Korean hemorrhagic fever’, which occurred during the Korean War of 1950-1953. Then, about 3 thousand UN soldiers suffered from symptoms of an unknown disease that caused impaired renal function and internal bleeding. At that time, the cause was not identified and the virus remained unexplored until 1976.
In the United States, a small outbreak of hantavirus occurred in 1993 when a young Navajo representative from Colorado and his fiancé died for an unknown reason. They felt unwell and died of a lack of oxygen due to respiratory failure. A total of 5 people died due to similar symptoms. CDC experts found that the cause was an unknown type of hantavirus. Single and small group cases of the disease periodically occur in Eurasia, in particular in the Russian Federation, Sweden, Finland and China.
Can Hantavirus Cause a New Epidemic?
This is unlikely, because it is not transmitted by airborne droplets (respiratory) from person to person, so its spread is relatively easy to prevent, especially in comparison with the coronavirus COVID-2019.
However, local flares are theoretically possible. It is known that some types of hantaviruses were transmitted from person to person, but this only happened in Chile and Argentina.
Thus, it seems unlikely that the hantavirus could cause a new epidemic or pandemic. Therefore, you should not be afraid of it, but you need to be careful, especially if you live in an area with a large number of rodents.