The unnamed Chinese man from Yunnan province died while traveling on a bus in Shandong, China and suffered very similar symptoms to those of the coronavirus, state media reports.
The victim passed away as he made his way to work and was found to be suffering from hantavirus – which is passed onto humans from rats and can then transfer from person to person.
News of the death comes just as China is lifting quarantines implemented to deal with the Chinese novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan.
The Global Times revealed the reason behind the worker’s death on social media, tweeting: “He was tested positive for #hantavirus.
Other 32 people on bus were tested.” The incident has triggered widespread panic across China, with #hantavirus trending on social media.
However, experts were quick to point out that it is not a new virus — and has only rarely thought to have been passed between humans, according to the New York Post.
“The #Hantavirus first emerged in 1950s in the American-Korean war in Korea (Hantan river). It spreads from rat/mice if humans ingest their body fluids. Human-human transmission is rare,” Swedish scientist Dr. Sumaiya Shaikh tweeted.
“Please do not panic, unless you plan to eat rats,” she stressed. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said hantavirus is rare — but puts the death rate at 38 percent. Symptoms may occur up to eight weeks “after exposure to fresh urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents,” the CDC says, noting it can occasionally also come from bites from infected rats or mice.
The symptoms in many ways mirror those reported from the novel coronavirus — with sufferers reporting fevers, headaches, coughing and shortness of breath.
One patient likened it to “a tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face,” the CDC said.
That is almost identical to what those with COVID-19 have reported, with Rep. Ben McAdams recently saying he “felt like I had a belt around my chest.”
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome became a “nationally notifiable disease” in the US in 1995, but there have been no known cases transmitted between people, the health group says.
“In Chile and Argentina, rare cases of person-to-person transmission have occurred” in the case of one strand named Andes virus, the CDC says. “There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection,” the CDC warned, saying patients often need intensive care to “help them through the period of severe respiratory distress.”
“Therefore, if you have been around rodents and have symptoms of fever, deep muscle aches, and severe shortness of breath, see your doctor immediately,” it warns.