As nations around the globe struggle with the devastating affects of COVID-19, there are fears that another deadly illness – more lethal than the coronavirus – has the potential to sweep the planet.
A man from China's Yunnan Province died last month after testing positive for hantavirus, a rare type of virus transmitted from rats to humans.
Hantaviruses are viruses spread through the feces and urine of rats. It's possible for the virus to be transmitted to humans when they come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected rat such as a bite or eating a rat. The viruses can become airborne and then inhaled.
Some strains – if they are transmitted to humans – can cause fatal diseases like hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a respiratory disease which is not too dissimilar to Covid-19. HPS has a fatality rate of 36 percent.
Rats are often on the menu in China. Should we be worried about the hantavirus becoming the next global pandemic?
Scientists say it is unlikely and a single human death from the virus is not cause for concern.
But, given China's lack of transparency over the coronavirus outbreak and the extraordinary length of time it took World Health Organization (WHO) to perceive what many health officials and governments had identified far earlier, one has to wonder if the hantavirus is being taken seriously.
The WHO is mum on the topic. They have not confirmed if the virus is on their radar screen or if their officials are investigating a possible outbreak of HPS.
Let's hope the WHO moves a bit faster than it did on COVID-19.
A hantavirus was thought to have caused the Sweating Sickness, a mysterious and highly contagious disease that struck England in 1485 and later Europe. It lasted for 66 grueling years before inexplicably vanishing in 1551.
The mortality rate was as high as 50 per cent. Symptoms were swift and dramatic, with death often occurring within hours. The first symptoms were cold shivers and severe pains in the head and neck, followed by hot sweats and finally an overwhelming urge to sleep.
Like COVID-19, the Sweating Sickness was no respecter of wealth or position. Tens of thousands died including many well-known individuals of the Tudor court. Anne Boleyn’s brother and father, along with Cardinal Wolsey all perished.
King Henry VIII went into a panic over the virus and in 1528 ordered the Royal Court be immediately broken up. He then “took off on a flight from safe house to safe house” in different parts of England.
Only now, in the midst of a global pandemic, can we begin to appreciate the full terror that the Sweating Sickness must have wreaked.
Robert Harland is a freelance British journalist.