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Hantavirus: because the story of the Chinese worker who died of infection has nothing to do with a new pandemic

On Monday, a Chinese worker died in hospital after he felt ill on his way to work onboard a bus from Shandong Province to Yunnan. For fear that it was a possible Covid-19 patient, tests were performed on all passengers of the vehicle but fortunately, none of them had contracted the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. According to what the Chinese newspaper Global English wrote yesterday, the man would have died from a hantavirus infection.

Hantavirus is a new virus such as SARS-CoV-2?

Immediately spread the panic, many have thought that after the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 from China will come a new virus that will be even worse than that caused the epidemic we are facing now. But the truth is that hantavirus (in fact, it would be better to say hantaviruses, since it is a family of viruses like coronaviruses) is not a new type of virus or an unknown virus. The name hantavirus comes from the city of Hantan, Korea, where the virus was first isolated in 1970. It was a time when there was little concern about stigmatizing an entire population by giving a virus the name of a locality geographic, so much so that since one of the infections (called hantaniosis) caused by the hantavirus was discovered during the Korean War in the 1950s, that disease is known by the name of Korean hemorrhagic fever. Other hantaniosi are haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, haemorrhagic fever epidemic, the epidemic nephropathy and respiratory distress syndrome.

The spread of hantavirus is vast, in 1993 hantavirus outbreak erupted in the United States including Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. It was the first case of infection on the American continent but they have been found in the Far East, in the Balkan region, in the Scandinavian peninsula, in Russia. Rodents spread the disease (each hantavirus is associated with a specific rodent species).

Is there a risk of a global Hantavirus epidemic?

Before Luca Zaia and other epidemiology experts come to tell us that the Chinese eat mice (which does not explain why thousands of UN soldiers were infected in Korea) the infection does not occur through the consumption of infected meat but when it comes in contact – generally by inhalation of fresh or dried excreted particles and subsequently dispersed in the environment. The mouse expels the virus through feces and urine and it can happen that the human being comes into contact with the infected manure without having contact with the reservoir animal.

Like coronavirus, hantaviruses are also a zoonosis (diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans), but human-to-human transmission occurs in a different way. The possibility of human-to-human transmission is considered an exceptional possibility even if there are cases of human-to-human infection in Argentina during an epidemic of Hantavirus infection with pulmonary involvement. In the case of the epidemic in the United States, however, there are no similar cases. Contagion does not occur through the respiratory system but through body secretions (vomiting, urine, feces) and blood.

There is therefore no immediate danger of a hantavirus epidemic and above all of its spread on a global scale. According to Yang Zhanqiu, a virologist from Wuhan University, patients are normally not attacked by Covid19 and by the virus at the same time (but considering that SARS-CoV-2 is a relatively new virus, this statement is unknown as to what scientific basis it has). More than to create panic or to announce the existence of a new epidemic, the spread of the news actually serves to “demonstrate” the transparency of the Chinese health authorities in alerting the international community about suspected cases of infection. This cannot be said to have happened at the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic in Wuhan.

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