Reports on the death of a man due to a virus transmitted from rodents near where the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak began in China sparked concerns, but scientists are saying it's not nearly as dangerous a virus.
Hantavirus claimed the life of the man after he was reportedly bitten by a rat, leading officials to perform additional tests of dozens of people who had traveled with him on a bus, where he died.
However, unlike the COVID-19 outbreak, Americans have very little to worry about with the hantavirus, which cannot be transmitted between people and is more commonly contracted by breathing in rodent droppings.
It’s also possible to contract the virus through a bite from an infected rodent, or if people touch something that has been contaminated with rodent urine, droppings or saliva and then touch their own nose or mouth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, hantavirus cases are very rare.
“The hantaviruses that cause human illness in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another,” the CDC says on its website. “Rare cases in Chile and Argentina have seen person-to-person transmission when a person is in close contact with someone sickened by a type of hantavirus called Andes virus.”
Hantaviruses in the Americas are known as “New World” hantaviruses and may cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), the CDC notes. Other hantaviruses, known as “Old World”, are found mostly in Europe and Asia and may cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome.
The CDC noted that In North America, they are the deer mouse, the white-footed mouse, the rice rat, and the cotton rat. However, not every deer mouse, white-footed mouse, rice rat, or cotton rat carries a hantavirus. Other rodents, such as house mice, roof rats, and Norway rats, have never been known to give people HPS.
“To date, no cases of HPS have been reported in the United States in which the virus was transmitted from one person to another. In fact, in a study of health care workers who were exposed to either patients or specimens infected with related types of hantaviruses (which cause a different disease in humans), none of the workers showed evidence of infection or illness.”
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