Hantavirus emerge amid COVID-19: What it is? How it Spread?

Updated: Apr 11

Another deadly disease, Hantavirus, has been reported from Yunnan, province of China, amidst the outrage of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Reports indicated that a man from the said location died on his way back to Shandong Province for work through chartered bus where he was aboard with 32 people. Authorities then learned that the person died from the Hantavirus, causing the other 32 persons aboard in the bus he rode on to be tested positive as well.

NOTE: During a fragile time like this it is extremely important to not be ill-informed regarding matters like these. Hantavirus is not a new virus but it has been around for several years now.

Unlike the novel pandemic coronavirus, hantavirus is not airborne. It is not a communicable virus and gets transmitted from human to human. This virus usually only infects rodents and human beings can get infected if they come in contact with rodent urine, feces or saliva.

What is Hantavirus?

Hantavirus is a virus that is found in the urine, saliva, or droppings of infected deer mice and some other wild rodents (cotton rats, rice rat). It causes a rare but serious lung disease called 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). The virus does not remain active for long once outside of its host -- less than 1 week outdoors and a few hours when exposed to direct sunlight.

How common is Hantavirus?

Hantavirus was first identified in Canada in 1994. When researchers reviewed other earlier cases, they were able to positively identify that there were at least 3 other cases occurring before 1994, the first happening in 1989. Since 1989, there have been 109 confirmed hantavirus cases and 27 deaths in Canada according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (as of January 2015).

Distribution and the total number of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome cases (n=109) reported in Canada, 1989 to 2014

Distribution and the total number of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome cases (n=109) reported in Canada, 1989 to 2014

How can Hantavirus enter my body?

People can contract the Hantavirus infection through inhalation of respirable droplets of saliva or urine, or through the dust of feces from infected wild rodents, especially the deer mouse. Transmission can also occur when contaminated material gets into broken skin, or possibly, ingested in contaminated food or water. Person-to-person transmission in North America has not been reported. A few situations of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in South America suggests person-to-person transmission is possible. However, the viruses isolated in South America are genetically distinct from those described in North America.

America classified this virus 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).

The hantavirus first emerged on the 1950's during the American-Korean war in Korea particularly in the Hantan river. It is not considered as pandemic since the mortality rate of this virus only falls at 36%.

Symptoms of Hantavirus

The disease caused by Hantavirus is called Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Symptoms appear within 1 to 5 weeks after exposure. The average is 2 to 4 weeks. This disease is extremely serious since about 40% of the people who get the disease die. The disease begins as a flu-like illness. In the early stage, a worker may experience fatigue, fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and gastrointestinal problems. However, the disease progresses rapidly and infected people experience an abnormal fall in blood pressure and their lungs will fill with fluid. Severe respiratory failure, resulting in death, can occur within a few days of the early-stage symptoms.

If left untreated, it can lead to coughing and shortness of breath and can be fatal, with a mortality rate of 38%, according to CDC. While the initial symptoms of HFRS too remain the same, it can cause low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage, and acute kidney failure.

HPS can't be passed on from person to person, while HFRS transmission between people is extremely rare. As per the CDC, rodent population control is the primary strategy for preventing hantavirus infections.

What is the treatment for Hantavirus?

There is no specific vaccine, treatment or cure for Hantavirus infection but early recognition and medical care in an intensive care unit can help with recovery. Infected people may be given medication for fever and pain and oxygen therapy.

What occupations are at risk?

Cases of Hantavirus infection contracted in Canada and the United States have been associated with these activities:

  • Sweeping out a barn and other ranch buildings.

  • Trapping and studying mice.

  • Using compressed air and dry sweeping to clean up wood waste in a sawmill.

  • Handling grain contaminated with mouse droppings and urine.

  • Entering a barn infested with mice.

  • Planting or harvesting field crops.

  • Occupying previously vacant dwellings.

  • Disturbing rodent-infested areas while hiking or camping.

  • Living in dwellings with a sizable indoor rodent population.

For workers that might be exposed to rodents as part of their normal job duties, employers are required to comply with relevant occupational health and safety regulations in their jurisdiction. Typically, employers are required to develop and implement an exposure control plan to eliminate or reduce the risk and hazard of Hantavirus in their workplace.

How can we prevent exposure to Hantavirus?

Attempt to reduce the presence of mice and limit contact with their droppings, urine and saliva by:

  • Storing food (including pet food), water and garbage in heavy plastic or metal containers with tight-fitting lids.

  • Sealing any holes in structures where mice may enter.

  • Cutting back thick brush and keep the grass short. Keep woodpiles away from the building.

  • Using a rubber or plastic gloves when cleaning up signs of rodents, handling dead rodents, or other materials. When finished, clean gloves with soapy water before taking them off. Wash hands with soapy water (again) after removing the gloves.

  • Setting traps when necessary. Put rodents in a plastic bag, seal the bag, and dispose it.

Since the human infection occurs through inhalation of contaminated material, clean-up procedures must be performed in a way that limits the amount of airborne dust. Treat all mice and droppings as being potentially infected. People involved in general clean-up activities where there is not a heavy accumulation of droppings should wear disposable protective clothing and gloves (neoprene, nitrile or latex-free), rubber boots and a disposable N95 respirator.

For cleaning up rodent contaminated areas with heavy accumulations of droppings it is necessary to use powered air-purifying (PARP) or air-supplied respirators with P100 filters and eye or face protection to avoid contact with any aerosols. Dead mice, nests and droppings should be soaked thoroughly with a 1:10 solution of sodium hypochlorite (household bleach).

Bleach kills the virus and reduces the chance of further transmission. The contaminated material should be placed in a plastic bag and sealed for disposal. Disinfect by wet-wiping all reusable respirator surfaces, gloves, rubber boots and goggles with bleach solution. All disposable protective clothing, gloves and respirators should be placed in plastic bags and sealed for disposal. Please contact your local environmental authorities concerning approved disposal methods. Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water after removing the gloves.

History of Hantavirus?

The hantaviruses are a relatively newly discovered genus of viruses. An outbreak of hemorrhagic fever among American and Korean soldiers during the Korean War (1950–1953) was caused by hantavirus infection. More than 3000 troops became ill with symptoms that included kidney failure, generalized hemorrhage, and shock. It had a 10% mortality rate. Hantavirus was named for the Hantan River area in South Korea. This outbreak sparked a 25-year search for the etiologic agent. Ho-Wang Lee, a South Korean virologist, and his colleagues isolated Hantaan virus in 1976 from the lungs of striped field mice.

In late medieval England, a mysterious sweating sickness swept through the country in 1485 just before the Battle of Bosworth Field. Noting that the symptoms overlap with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, several scientists have theorized that the virus may have been the cause of the disease. The hypothesis was criticized because sweating sickness was recorded as being transmitted from human to human, whereas hantaviruses were not known to spread in this way. Limited transmission via human-to-human contact has since been shown in Hantavirus outbreaks in Argentina.

In 1993, an outbreak of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome occurred in the Four Corners region in the southwestern United States. The viral cause of the disease was found only weeks later and was called the Sin Nombre virus (SNV), or in Spanish, "virus sin Nombre", meaning "nameless virus". The host was first identified as the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) by Terry Yates, a professor at the University of New Mexico.

In March 2020, a man from Yunnan Province died while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus. He was tested positive and died of hantavirus, and 32 other people on the bus were tested.


Where can I get more Information?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia have guidelines that cover a variety of workplace situations. For more details on risk assessment and precautions for specific situations not clearly addressed by existing guidelines contact specific agencies responsible for such detailed information, for example, your local public health offiials.

* Hantavirus. US Centers for Disease Control * A Hantavirus Exposure Control Program for Employers and Workers

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