The coronavirus outbreak may have only just begun, but already the world has begun freaking out about another deadly virus. This is the hantavirus, which yesterday killed a Chinese man who was travelling on a bus to Shandong .
Carried by rodents, the hantavirus can cause severe respiratory disease, much like the coronavirus. But the CDC puts the mortality rate of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome – the disease caused by North American strains of the virus – as high as 36% .
This is much higher than the coronavirus’s mortality rate, which the WHO estimates at 3.4%. And because Chinese officials have tested the other 32 people on the bus for the hantavirus, people are now starting to panic that China may have kickstarted another global pandemic.
Predictably enough, the combination of death with the possibility of contagion has sent the internet into a frenzy. Because if the coronavirus weren’t already destructive enough, Global Pandemic Twitter fears that another deadly virus is about to begin spreading.
Equally predictably, people are blaming China for another virus outbreak. Some are going so far as to repeat the claim that the coronavirus — and now the hantavirus — are the result of lab experiments.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 400,000 people worldwide and killed over 17,000. Western nations like the U.S. and the U.K. are only just beginning to experience the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. So a new virus couldn’t have possibly chosen the worst time to arrive.
And given that the CDC identifies extremely high fatality rates for diseases caused by both “New World” and “Old World” hantaviruses , the reemergence of the virus could potentially be even more catastrophic than that of the coronavirus. Who knows what kind of devastation that terrifying duo could wreak on the global economy.
But the thing is, the hantavirus isn’t likely to cause massive economic disruption. It isn’t likely to cause another pandemic, or even an epidemic localized entirely to China.
Why? Because most strains of hantavirus show no evidence of transmitting from human-to-human. According to the CDC, this is how it spreads:
via aerosolized virus that is shed in urine, feces, and saliva, and less frequently by a bite from an infected host.
Put simply, you’d have to come into contact with an infected rodent. And if you are unfortunate enough to be infected, you probably wouldn’t be able to pass on the virus by touching another person (According to Mayo Clinic, some South American strains of hantavirus have shown “evidence” of human-to-human transmission.)
Unsurprisingly, some pathologically cynical and paranoid individuals are denying this piece of well-established virological fact.
True, Chinese authorities and the WHO initially claimed that people weren’t infecting each other with the coronavirus. But previous hantavirus outbreaks reveal that transmission is almost always very low.
Since January 2017, there have only been 728 cases of hantavirus disease in the U.S.
If hantavirus really were primarily spread by human-to-human transmission, those figures would be much, much higher. But they’re not. They’re very low. And cases from other nations are also very low on an annual basis .
So no, you probably don’t need to worry about hantavirus . Save your hand-wringing for the coronavirus, which is highly contagious and potentially fatal. But don’t add the hantavirus to your list of anxieties. Because goodness knows we already have more than enough as it is.