On Tuesday morning, some people began to panic when they saw that hantavirus was trending on Twitter following a report of a related death in Yunnan Province, China on Monday. With the current COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, the last thing anybody wants to see on Twitter is a new virus trending.

Global Times reported the death via their official Twitter account on Monday night. The tweet read, “A person from Yunnan Province died while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus on Monday. He was tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested.”

With everything going on from the coronavirus, some were quick to panic when seeing the hantavirus trending, especially those that had no clue what the disease is. Fears perpetuated on social media were reinforced with misinformation. With everything going on in the world, one hantavirus death is not even close to a low-level concern. 

According to the CDC, “Hantaviruses are a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents and can cause varied disease syndromes in people worldwide. Infection with any hantavirus can produce hantavirus disease in people. Hantaviruses in the Americas are known as “New World” hantaviruses and may cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Other hantaviruses, known as “Old World” hantaviruses, are found mostly in Europe and Asia and may cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).”

Cases of human infection from hantavirus happen sporadically in rural fields, forests, and farms that offer an ideal habitat for the rodents that host it. In America and Canada, houses, barns, and sheds act as potential sites for humans to become infected with the Sin Nombre hantavirus. The deer mouse is the host of the Sin Nombre virus, which is the majority of HPS infections.

The New York hantavirus, carried by the white-footed mouse, is one of several other hantaviruses that are capable of causing infection in humans and is associated with HPS in northeastern America. The Black Creek hantavirus is carried by the cotton rat and located in southeastern America. These rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. The virus is mainly transmitted to humans when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus. When fresh rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are “stirred up,” the droplets holding the virus become airborne, more commonly known as an “airborne transmission.”

Humans can also catch the disease by being bitten by a rodent host. Scientists have also suspected the hantavirus can be contracted by touching something contaminated with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva, then touching their nose or mouth. It is also believed one can catch the disease by eating food contaminated by rodent urine, droppings, or saliva.

The hantavirus that causes human illness in America cannot be transmitted from person to person. You will not catch HPS from kissing, touching, or having physical contact with someone infected. However, there have been rare cases of human to human transmission in Chile and Argentina with a type of hantavirus called Andes virus.

Due to such a low number of cases, the exact “incubation time” of HPS is not positively known. It is believed it takes between one and eight weeks for symptoms to appear after being exposed to contaminated rodents. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches. Four to ten days after the initial symptoms of HPS late symptoms will come in the form of coughing and shortness of breath. An HPS survivor described the feeling as a “tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face.” The disease can be fatal, with a mortality rate of 38%.

Overall, the chances that you are going to catch the hantavirus are rare and have nothing to do with a guy in China dying from it. If hantavirus has become a new concern, just remember to stay away from rat urine, droppings, and saliva or anything that may have been contaminated by rodents.

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