All passengers on a bus were tested for hantavirus and Covid-19 after a man died (Picture: Getty Images)

As China eases its lockdown while coronavirus cases in the country start to drop, fresh panic was sparked when a man died on a bus after catching a more deadly disease.

The commuter who was on his way to work was tested positive for hantavirus, which has similar symptoms to Covid-19 but is mainly spread by rats rather than through the respiratory system. The other 32 people on the bus in Shandong have also been tested for the disease, prompting concerns of another epidemic on social media, the Global Times reports.

But scientists have been quick to stress hantavirus is not a new illness and is rarely caught by humans, unlike coronavirus which has proven to he highly contagious. All other passengers on the bus tested negative for Covid-19 and are awaiting their results for hantavirus, Ningshan county government said.

Similarly to coronavirus, the rat-borne disease can cause coughs, shortness of breath and fever like symptoms and can lead to organ failure, but it is highly unlikely that it could have passed from person to person. While rare, the illness has a death rate of 38%, significantly higher than the 3.4% estimated by the World Health Organisation for Covid-19.

Hantavirus is spread through the bodily fluids of rats (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)
Swedish scientist Dr Sumaiya Shaikh said the disease is nothing new and that human-to-human transmission is highly unlikely (Picture: Twitter) Caption: Man dies of hantavirus after catching it from rats

It can lead to to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which damages blood vessels and causes them to leak, affecting the function of major organs including the heart and lungs.

Swedish scientist Dr Sumaiya Shaikh said Hantavirus was first recorded in the 1950s by the Hantan river during the American-Korean war.

She said it spreads from rodents in cases where humans ingest their bodily fluids. Pleading for calm on Twitter, she said: ‘Human-human transmission is rare. Please do not panic, unless you plan to eat rats.’

A guard watches tourists through augmented reality eyewear equipped with an infrared temperature detector in Xixi Wetland Park, Hangzhou, in China’s Zhejiang province (Picture: Barcroft Media)
Chinese authorities are beginning to ease restrictions but are still on high alert (Picture: AFP/Getty Images)

People who come into contact with infected droppings, saliva, urine or nesting materials could pick up the virus, which can be difficult to detect because early symptoms are similar to illnesses like the flu.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said: ‘There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection.

‘Therefore, if you have been around rodents and have symptoms of fever, deep muscle aches, and severe shortness of breath, see your doctor immediately.’

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