A Philippine website and various social media posts have been spreading a false report of a new virus outbreak in China, supposedly of the rat-borne hantavirus this time.
Many netizens passed on the March 25 report of Philippine News whose clickbaity headline reads:
Hantavirus Begins To Plague China As COVID-19 Numbers Go Down. After COVID-19 Declines, Hantavirus Begins New Outbreak In China
The website based its story partly on an article of Nigeria’s Daily Times which published the erroneous headline, “ICYMI: China records another outbreak of new Hantavirus,” and equally erroneous lead, “Amidst outrage of the Coronavirus spread, China has reported another outbreak of a deadly disease, Hantavirus.”
Alarming accounts of the nonexistent outbreak in China went viral when Global Times, an English newspaper of People’s Daily in China, reported the death of a man who tested positive for hantavirus. Its March 24 tweet:
A person from Yunnan Province died while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus on Monday. He was tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested.
Global Times published the photo of a man being scanned on the forehead for his body temperature and a crowd apparently waiting for their turn.
The tweet has more than 20,000 retweets and 25,000 likes.
The 32 passengers tested negative for the virus, according to a subsequent report of Global Times.
The paper also interviewed a virologist from Wuhan University who described chances of an outbreak, especially a pandemic, as low.
While hantavirus infections can be fatal, virologist Yang Zhanqui told Global Times the virus is not transmitted through the respiratory system like the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 but through contact with urine, droppings and saliva of rodents.
Yang also said:
There is no need to worry about the hantavirus. Hantavirus disease is preventable and controllable and there are vaccines to prevent it. Its incidence in urban cities is very low as the disease is mainly found in rural villages where rats tend to appear when people are working in the field.
Strangely, Philippine News warned in a different article about the growing panic online triggered by misleading posts about hantavirus, but it did not bother to correct its article about the “new outbreak.” The article warned in its headline:
Hantavirus Misleading Post: Not Comparable To The New Coronavirus. Be aware of Hantavirus misleading post
Health authorities, fact checkers and journalists have taken to debunking the misleading messages.
A single reported case of hantavirus does not equate to an outbreak, Snopes said in a fact check.
It also said the family of viruses is not new and traced the first strain during the Korean war in the 1950s, which left 190 American soldiers dead and about 3,000 sick.
Hantaviruses come in different types and may lead to hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) or hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said HFRS is found throughout the world, especially in Asia and Europe, while HPS is more common in the Americas.
The World Health Organization documented HPS cases at the Yosemite National Park in the U.S. in 2012, in Panama in 2000 and last year, and in Argentina last year.
U.K.’s The Independent assured readers:
While hantavirus does refer to a dangerous family of viruses, they are not comparable to the new coronavirus and are nowhere near as dangerous.
It said people who “live in dusty areas with rodent infestations” are at particular risk.
WHO said the signs and symptoms of HPS are headache, dizziness, chills, fever, muscle pain and gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, followed by sudden onset of shortness of breath or rapid breathing and low blood pressure.
Symptoms typically occur from two to four weeks after initial exposure to the virus but may appear as early as one week and as late as eight weeks following exposure. The case-fatality rate can reach 35 to 50 percent.
The CDC said the initial symptoms of HFRS are intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, fever, chills, nausea and blurred vision. Later symptoms can include low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage and acute kidney failure.
Symptoms usually develop within one to two weeks after exposure to infectious material, but may take up to eight weeks to develop.
MedicineNet said hantavirus infections are more common in China than in the U.S. but are still rare.
Citing an article by virologist and hantavirus specialist Colleen B. Jonsson, it said:
(A)bout 75,000 people in China come down with serious hantavirus complications every year. This qualifies under the NIH's (National Institutes of Health) definition as a rare disease.
WHO said hantavirus vaccines against HFRS have been produced and have contributed to the reduction of HFRS in many countries in Asia.
Hantavirus vaccines against HFRS have been produced by growing hantavirus (Hantaan or Seoul virus strains) in rodent brain or cell cultures followed by inactivation by either formalin or beta-propiolactone. The inactivated virus suspension is then formulated with aluminum hydroxide adjuvant.
Both WHO and the CDC said there is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for HPS. They recommend early recognition and treatment.
Philippine News’ wrong report about the outbreak has been shared by Facebook pages such as the popular Viral Facts, which has 462,170 followers. The website article has 10,143 interactions and 2,774 shares on Facebook.
A man in China died from hantavirus and the news has caused some alarm - but what is this virus? (2020, March 25). Retrieved from https://www.health24.com/Medical/infectious-diseases/News/a-man-in-china-died-from-hantavirus-and-the-news-has-caused-some-alarm-but-what-is-this-virus-20200324
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome: Diagnosis and treatment. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hps/diagnosis.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hfrs/index.html
Global Times [@globaltimesnews]. (2020, March 24.) A person from Yunnan Province died while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus on Monday. He was tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/globaltimesnews/status/1242257863185063937
Griffin, A. (2020, March 24). What is hantavirus? Misleading messages spread fear after death in China. The Independent. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/hantavirus-whatsapp-twitter-truth-coronavirus-covid-19-rat-mice-a9422211.html
Liu, C. (2020, March 25). Chinese worker's death from hantavirus sparks concerns over new outbreak amid COVID-19 pandemic. Global Times. Retrieved from http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1183691.shtml
Nneka. (2020, March 25). ICYMI: China records another outbreak of new hantavirus. Daily Times. Retrieved from https://dailytimes.ng/2020/03/25/icymi-china-records-another-outbreak-of-new-hantavirus/#Echobox=1585041534
Palma, B. (2020, March 24). Does China have a ‘new’ outbreak of hantavirus? Retrieved from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hantavirus-china/
Philippine News. (2020, March 25). After COVID-19 declines, hantavirus begins new outbreak In China. Retrieved from https://philnews.ph/2020/03/24/hantavirus-begins-to-plague-china-as-covid-19-numbers-go-down/
Philippine News. (2020, March 25). Be aware of hantavirus misleading post. Retrieved from https://philnews.ph/2020/03/25/hantavirus-misleading-post-not-comparable-to-the-new-coronavirus/
Schelden, P. (2020, March 25). Hantavirus death in China: Why coronavirus-like pandemic unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=229363
World Health Organization. (2011, November 14). Haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/biologicals/vaccines/haemorrhagic_fever/en/
World Health Organization. (2012, September 4.). Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome – Yosemite National Park, United States of America. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/csr/don/2012_09_04/en/
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/csr/don/archive/disease/hantavirus_pulmonary_syndrome/en/