One person has reportedly died of a rodent-carried hantavirus infection in China, sparking wild — and completely unfounded — fears of a “coronavirus 2.0″ pandemic on social media.
The Global Times, a state-controlled Chinese publication, tweeted about the death in English late Monday, although a story about the incident has not been posted to its English website.
“A person from Yunnan Province died while he was on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus on Monday,” the publication tweeted, along with a photo of someone being screened for COVID-19. “He tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested.”
Hantavirus is an extremely rare type of virus that infects humans through dust contaminated by the saliva, urine or feces of a rodent, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes a nasty disease that attacks the heart and kills about 36-40 per cent of patients, but it doesn’t spread from person to person — a key trait required for a virus to become a pandemic.
Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headaches, coughing, nausea and vomiting. Some patients can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms, and it can take up to six weeks from the time of exposure for symptoms to appear.
The disease has been reported in North America since 1993, but Canada only sees approximately three cases a year and the U.S. has recorded about 35 annually, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health. Other strains of the disease have been identified in Europe and Asia since the 1950s.
“The risk of getting infected with a hantavirus in Canada or in other parts of the world is low,” a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada told Global News in a statement. The spokesperson pointed out that nearly all forms of the virus do not spread through person-to-person contact.
“This is hysteria,” Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, told Global News. “We have seen hantavirus here in Canada and in the U.S. for many years.”
The CDC also quickly swatted down fears of another potential pandemic on Tuesday.
“Please do not panic, unless you plan to eat rats,” neuroscientist Dr. Sumaiya Shaikh tweeted on Tuesday, in the middle of a flurry of social media anxiety.
Nevertheless, people anxious about the novel coronavirus were quick to hit the panic button when they saw the report of a hantavirus-related death in China.