New Animal-to-Human Virus Affects Dozens in China

Researchers are keeping a close watch on a newly discovered virus in China that seems to pass from animals to humans.

Although more than a dozen cases were reported in China since the virus was originally discovered in late 2018, it was officially recognized only this week.

Langya henipavirus (LayV) infections were largely reported among farmers in the eastern provinces of Shandong and Henan between December 2018 and May 2021, with no deaths so far.

A report published in New Scientist, a UK-based weekly science and technology magazine, revealed that experts had identified the virus and had stated that LayV is “part of a genus of viruses called henipaviruses that are typically harbored in fruit bats”.

The same genus “includes the Hendra virus, which was first identified in Australia in 1994 and is known to infect humans and horses,” as per the report.

The Nipah virus, which was discovered in Malaysia in 1999, is also a member of the same genus, and both viruses have high mortality rates in humans.

The report contained details that patients infected with LayV experience cough, headaches, fatigue, fever, nausea,  muscle aches, and pains. A throat swab test from a patient with fever and a recent history of animal contact was used to identify the LayV virus.

Researchers are convinced that shrews “may be the virus’ natural reservoir” as 27 percent of the more than 260 shrews “they surveyed had detectable levels of LayV,” the report revealed.

The virus was also detected in five percent of dogs and two percent of goats but the researchers found no proof of person-to-person transmission of the virus.

It was learned from the report that for nine of the infected people, “contact tracing with 15 of their close-contact family members revealed no LayV transmission”.

This suggests that the virus doesn’t pass from person to person, but rather animal to person. Nevertheless, the sample size is too small to rule out person-to-person transmission.

Olivier Restif, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Cambridge, explained that LayV is “unlikely to become a pandemic” because it does not “typically spread between people”.

“The only henipavirus that has shown some sign of human-to-human transmission is the Nipah virus and that requires very close contact,” he stated and added that he does not think LayV has much pandemic potential.