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Tuesday 31st March 2020

What is hantavirus and are there any cases in the UK?

It has symptoms similar to coronavirus

As the world continues the fight to suppress the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, a man has died in China after contracting hantavirus.

The individual, from southwest China's Yunnan Province, was reportedly ill as he was travelling to work on a bus.

What is hantavirus and have there been cases in the UK?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has explained that hantavirus is mainly spread between rodents, although in rare cases it can be passed to humans, usually via rodents' urine, faeces or saliva.

Rats are typically behind cases of hantavirus in humans (Credit: Pixabay)

Read more: How to treat coronavirus at home - latest news and advice

According to the CDC: "Each hantavirus serotype has a specific rodent host species and is spread to people via aerosolised virus that is shed in urine, feces, and saliva, and less frequently by a bite from an infected host."

Please do not panic, unless you plan to eat rats.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a condition it causes, is frequently fatal with a mortality rate of 36 per cent, the CDC reports on its website.

There have been cases of hantavirus in the UK, but it's very rare. A Public Health England report published in 2014 revealed that, at the time, there had been six cases recent cases of acute kidney injury caused by hantaviruses. All six patients had contact with wild or pet rats.

What happened to the man who died?

The Xinhua News Agency reported that the man worked for an aquatic food company. He reportedly died at 7am on Monday (March 23).

Other people travelling on the bus he was on when he was taken ill were tested, and no other cases of hantavirus were reported. He was also tested for coronavirus and the results came back negative.

Medics tested others for hantavirus but there were no other cases (Credit: SplashNews.com)

What are the symptoms of hantavirus?

Early symptoms of the disease include vomiting, exhaustion and cheeks turning a reddish colour.

Those infected will eventually come down with a fever, experience bleeding and suffer kidney damage, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is no specific treatment for the disease. According to Lung.org, patients in an intensive care unit would likely receive treatment such as "intubation and oxygen therapy, fluid replacement and use of medications to support blood pressure".

Is there going to be a hantavirus pandemic?

A hantavirus pandemic is highly unlikely. The disease has been around for some time and people rarely pass it to other humans.

By comparison, the coronavirus is highly contagious, which is why the world is currently in the grip of a COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Coronavirus: Devastated family issues wake-up call to Britain after death of young woman with no underlying health conditions

Australian neuroscientist Dr Sumaiya Shaikh clarified on Twitter: "The #Hantavirus first emerged in 1950s in the American-Korean war in Korea (Hantan river).

"It spreads from rat/mice if humans ingest their body fluids. Human-human transmission is rare. Please do not panic, unless you plan to eat rats."

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