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New Langya virus infects 35 people in eastern China; likely transmitted from shrews

There has so far been no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the Langya henipavirus.

New Langya virus infects 35 people in eastern China; likely transmitted from shrews

A stock photo of a shrew. (Photo: iStock/mauribo)

SINGAPORE: A total of 35 people in China have been infected with a new virus which can be transmitted from animals to humans, according to a report by researchers in China, Singapore and New Zealand.

The Langya henipavirus (LayV) was discovered during recent surveillance of people with fevers who had a recent history of animal exposure in eastern China.

The correspondence published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Aug 4 said the virus was first identified in a throat swab sample from one patient. 

Subsequent investigation identified 35 patients with "acute LayV infection" in the Shandong and Henan provinces.

Twenty-six of these patients were found to be infected with Langya henipavirus only and experienced symptoms such as fever, fatigue, cough, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle aches. Most of them were farmers. 

Following a survey of wild small animals, the researchers said the virus was "predominantly detected" in shrews, a finding which suggests that the animal may be "a natural reservoir" of the virus. 

There has so far been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

"There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients, which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic," said the researchers, adding that the sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission.

The Guardian reported that the Langya henipavirus was first detected in late 2018 in Shandong and Henan. It was only formally identified by scientists last week. 

Belonging to the genus henipavirus, other viruses under the same family include the Hendra virus and the Nipah virus. These viruses are known to infect humans and cause fatal disease.  

The Nipah virus is carried primarily by certain types of fruit bats and pigs. It can also be transmitted directly from person to person as well as through contaminated fruit. 

According to Chinese state media Global Times, the cases of Langya henipavirus so far have not been fatal or very serious.

Citing Professor Wang Linfa from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, who was involved in the study, the report said that there was no need to panic. 

However, Prof Wang added that there is still a cause for alert as many viruses that exist in nature have unpredictable results when they infect humans. 

CNA has contacted Prof Wang and Duke-NUS Medical School for more information. 

Source: CNA/Agencies/lk(zl)

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