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Researchers tracking new Langya virus after it infects 35 in China

Disease jumps from shrews to people, but no human-to-human transmission recorded and cases described as mild

Illustrative: A man near a poster promoting vaccination in Beijing, China, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Illustrative: A man near a poster promoting vaccination in Beijing, China, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Scientists are closely watching a new virus which has infected dozens of people in China after apparently jumping from shrews to humans.

The Langya henipavirus (LayV) was identified for the first time last week in a letter published by the New England Journal of Medicine, though the earliest known case dates back to 2018.

At least 35 people have contracted the illness in China’s northeastern Shandong and Henan provinces, the scientists said.

Researchers noted that there is no evidence of human to human transmission of the virus, which was found in over 25 percent of shrews. It was also found in 5% of dogs and 2% of domestic goats.

All 35 people infected with the virus had a fever and most also had other symptoms including coughing, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, headaches and myalgia.

Prof. Wang Lin-Fa of Duke–National University of Singapore Medical School, who participated in the research, told China’s Global Times news site that there had not been any fatal cases, describing the symptoms as not serious. But Wang added that the virus could still act in unpredictable ways when given a human host.

Henipaviruses are zoonotic viruses, meaning they derive from animals. They are RNA viruses from the family Paramyxoviride, and include the Hendra and Nipah viruses, both of which have extremely high case fatality ratios.

Nipah viruses are the only henipaviruses known to be transmitted human to human. Annual outbreaks occur in southeast Asia, and fatality rates have ranged from 40% to as high as 100% in some years, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Taiwanese health authorities announced Sunday that they were closely monitoring the new virus and developing a method for quick genome sequencing.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have jumped from animals to humans in China in 2019.

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