What is hantavirus: Causes, symptoms and precautions

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The death of a man on March 23, from Yunnan Province, Southwest China, due to hantavirus has created new shockwaves amidst the already terrorising coronavirus pandemic.

The man was travelling to Shandong Province in the east and was screened for the virus, post-death. 32 people on board the bus he was travelling on were also tested; the results are still unknown.

So, what is hantavirus?

What is hantavirus?

Most people believe that this is a new virus, which is not true.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hantavirus or orthohantavirus is spread by rodents.

Humans contract the disease when they breathe in hantavirus particles from the animal’s urine, saliva or faeces present in the air.

We can also get sick when we touch the infected rodent’s urine, droppings or saliva that contain the virus and then touch our eyes, nose or mouth.

Consuming food contaminated by urine, dropping or saliva of the infected rodent can also cause the illness. In very few cases, a person can catch the virus if bitten by an infected animal.

According to the CDC, an individual who develops the “New World” hantavirus, as known in America, can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

The “old world” hantaviruses, mostly found in Europe and Asia can cause Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS).

Any individual, irrespective of age, who is in contact with an infected animal can catch the hantavirus and this is more likely when the individual visits rural areas like forests, farms, fields, and other areas with limited development. 

Symptoms of the disease

Symptoms of hantavirus are similar to coronavirus.

In case of HPS, symptoms include fever, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhoea, vomiting, chills and pain in the abdomen.

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If left untreated in the initial stage, it can lead to serious problems like respiratory issues, cough, breathlessness and fluid in lungs, which can then lead to death.

In the case of HFRS, symptoms include backache, stomach pain, headache, chills, fever and vomiting, which can be noticed immediately.

The individual might also experience blurred vision, flushed face and inflammation along with low blood pressure, vascular leakage and acute kidney failure.

If left untreated, hantavirus can be quite fatal.

According to CDC, about 38 per cent of deaths have been recorded in the case of HPS. In the case of HRFS, depending on which virus is causing it, death rate of 1 per cent to as high as 15 per cent has been reported.

Hantavirus Diagnosis and Treatment

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No known treatment or vaccine is available yet.

Diagnosis of hantavirus can be quite challenging as the symptoms are quite similar to flu, influenza, pneumonia and coronavirus.

Individuals with symptoms must be tested for this virus and get themselves admitted in intensive care where the patient will be administered oxygen therapy in case of severe respiratory issues.

Hantavirus Prevention

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Ensuring that your home is clean and free from rodent infestation is the only way to prevent the hantavirus infection.

  • In the case of rodents in or around your home, workplace and campsites, pest control treatments would be your best bet.
  • Seal up holes inside and outside your home to prevent rodent entries, and use traps to combat rodents.
  • Wear rubber or vinyl gloves during cleaning.
  • Use disinfectants to clean up contaminated stuff and areas.
  • Make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly if you suspect touching a contaminated surface.

While there are several misleading messages about what hantavirus is and labelling it as a new outbreak similar to the coronavirus, this is one sickness that you need not worry about right now, as long as you stay away from rodents.

This article was first published in theAsianparent.