Unlike coronavirus, hantaviruses transmit mostly through urine, feces and saliva of rodents; virus first came to light in 1950s

Hantavirus is the name given to a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents and that cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in humans

FP Staff March 25, 2020 07:04:23 IST
Unlike coronavirus, hantaviruses transmit mostly through urine, feces and saliva of rodents; virus first came to light in 1950s

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, a man in China's southwestern Yunnan province has died of hantavirus, a disease spread by rodents, official media reported on Tuesday.

The person from Yunnan province died while on his way back to the eastern Shandong province for work on a chartered bus on Monday, state-run Global Times tweeted.

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Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

"He was tested positive for hantavirus. Other 32 people on the bus were tested," the tweet said without divulging further details.

What is hantavirus?

Hantavirus is the name given to a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents and have been identified as "etiologic agents" of two diseases of humans: hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) or hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HCPS).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is the leading national public health institute of the United States, there are "old world" hantaviruses found in Europe and Asia (though the entire Eastern Hemisphere are included, according to some scientific studies) and may cause HFRS, and then there are "New World" hantaviruses, found mostly in the south and north Americas, which may cause HPS.

The mortality rate due to HPS caused by "new world" hantaviruses is higher than that of HFRS. Unfortunately, the list of distinct hantaviruses associated with HPS is growing.

The most important hantavirus in the US that can cause HPS is the Sin Nombre virus, spread by the deer mouse. Approximately 12 percent of deer mice carry the hantavirus.

Hantaviruses are also found in musk shrew (Indian Subcontinent), bank vole (Europe, Russia, Scandinavia), striped field mouse (Russia, China, Korea), yellow-neck mouse (Balkans), Norway rat (worldwide), bandicoot rat (Thailand), among others.

Are hantaviruses new?

Not really. HFRS includes diseases previously known as Korean hemorrhagic fever, epidemic hemorrhagic fever, and nephropathia epidemica.

Although HFRS first noticed by western physicians between 1951 and 1954 when approximately 3,200 cases occurred from 1951 to 1954 among United Nations forces in Korea, the diseases are likely to have existed in Asia for centuries.

Other outbreaks of what is believed to have been HFRS were reported in Russia in 1913 and 1932, among Japanese troops in Manchuria in 1932, and in Sweden in 1934. A 1997 study recorded 150,000 to 200,000 cases of HFRS involving hospitalisation each year throughout the world, with more than half in China. Russia and Korea also report hundreds to thousands of HFRS cases each year.

According to WHO, prior to the case in China, the Argentinian Ministry of Health and Social Development issued an epidemiological alert regarding an increase in cases of HPS in Epuyén, Chubut Province.

Between 28 October 2018 – 20 January of 2019, a total of 29 laboratory-confirmed cases of HPS, including 11 deaths have been reported in Epuyén, Chubut Province, the WHO said.

Epuyén has a population of approximately 2 000 persons, and Chubut Province is located in Patagonia in southern Argentina.

Hantavirus and coronavirus are not related

The hantavirus report from China has come at a time when the country is currently grappling with coronavirus which has resulted in the death of 3,277 people in the country, mostly in its epicentre Hubei province and its capital Wuhan. Already panic-stricken due to coronavirus , the reports of hantavirus infection spread like wildfire on social media, creating more panic among netizens.

However, there's no connection between the two viruses. Both of them have different origin, different ways of transmission and also different incubation period.

Though the "ubiquity and potential for causing severe human illness make the hantaviruses an important public health concern", they have no connection with the coronavirus which has killed nearly 17,000 people worldwide and infected over 3.8 lakh people in 175 countries.

Each hantavirus serotype (there are 14 types according to one study) has a specific rodent host species and is spread to people via an aerosolised virus that is shed in urine, feces, and saliva, and less frequently by a bite from an infected host, according to the CDC.

The chances of catching the virus are highest in natural reservoirs of the virus-carrying rodents.

According to a 2011 report, which studied a cluster infected with the Andes Hantavirus (ANDV) in Chile, the ANDV, which causes hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HCPS or HPS) in Chile and Argentina, is the only hantavirus for which person-to-person transmission has been proven.

Diagnosis and treatment for HPS

According to CDC, there is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, "if infected individuals are recognised early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better". '

Intensive care is given to help them through the period of severe respiratory distress using oxygen therapy.

According to CDC, diagnosing HPS in an individual is difficult because early symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and fatigue are easily confused with influenza.

"However, if the individual is experiencing fever and fatigue and has a history of potential rural rodent exposure, together with shortness of breath, it would be strongly suggestive of HPS," the institute said.

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