Waves of panic hit mankind yet again when reports of a man dying from the fatal Hantavirus in the Yunnan province of China surfaced on Monday ( March 23). To everyone’s relief, the disease caused by Hantavirus, called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, is non-contagious unlike COVID 19. It does not spread through human to human contact. But there is no vaccine or possible cure for it either.
The Hantavirus is not a new virus. The origin of Hantavirus can be traced back to the 1950s in the Hantan River in Korea during the American-Korean war. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the very first outbreak was seen in May of 1993 in the South Western United States in an area known as ‘The Four Corners’ when a physically fit man suffering from shortness of breath was admitted to a hospital in New Mexico. He had passed away shortly after. In a matter of weeks, similar cases had continued to be reported in the same area.
Rigorous research by scientists and virologists showed that this particular virus is carried by rodents like deer mice and rats. Outbreaks of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome were seen especially in ‘The Four Corners’ area because there was an increase in the number of rats there in May of 1993. This was because the area was reviving after a bad drought. Abundance of food was attracting mice. The mice were reproducing and the larger the numbers of mice, the higher were its chances of coming in human contact.
The fatal Hantavirus is found in the saliva, urine and faeces of rodents, especially the deer mice. The virus can enter the human body through rodent bites and open wounds. However, if and once it becomes airborne, it can be inhaled. In the early stages, the symptoms are flu-like, including fever greater than 101 degree Fahrenheit, Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, dry cough followed by breathing difficulty and fatigue. In case of a more advanced stage, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome can cause fluid to fill up in the lungs. It is expected to have a mortality rate of thirty eight percent.
As of now, there is no specific treatment which could cure the disease caused by Hantavirus. So, managing its symptoms is the first step towards somewhat of a recovery. According to American Lung Association, the conditions of patients suffering from the early stages of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome can improve once medical care is provided to them in the Intensive Care Unit. Supportive Treatments like intubation, oxygen therapy and fluid replacement are generally given in the ICU. “Sometimes antiviral drugs, such as ribavirin, are used to treat other strains of Hantavirus and associated infections. However, no large trials have proven them to work, but doctors may try in very severe cases,” says the American Lung Association. It takes a lot of time to recover from this illness.
The best way to avoid getting infected by the deadly Hantavirus is to not come in contact with mice at all. This can be achieved by keeping our houses clean and by making sure that our food is stored in airtight containers so that rodents cannot reach them. Camp sites are generally homes to rodents. So exposure to such places must be avoided. All cases of suspected Hantavirus infection must be reported immediately as the earlier the treatment starts, the better.
Doctors have claimed that since there has been no documented cases of human to human transfer and the reported cases in the past have been very isolated, chances of Hantavirus becoming the next pandemic is almost next to none. “Please do not panic, unless you plan to eat rats,” assured the Swedish scientist Dr. Sumaiya Shaikh.