Langya virus: what is the new virus found in China and how worried should we be?

With three dozen infections already, researchers are studying how LayV jumped from animals to humans

A health worker carries out a Covid-19 test in Xiamen, in China's eastern Fujian province. More tracking systems are now in place to detect virus outbreaks. AFP
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A new virus has been detected in China after dozens of people became sick following contact with animals.

The virus, named Langya henipavirus or LayV, was discovered owing to early detection systems for people with fevers who have recently been exposed to animals in eastern China.

How many people are sick?

So far, at least 35 people, all in China, have been found to have the virus.

What are the symptoms?

The patients — mainly farmers — have reported fatigue, cough, loss of appetite and aches, with several developing blood-cell abnormalities and signs of liver and kidney damage.

Among the patients, 26 were infected only with LayV, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

How dangerous is it?

LayV is from the same family as the deadly Nipah and Hendra viruses. Following a 2018 outbreak of Nipah in the Indian state of Kerala, 17 of the 19 people infected died and the government put Ebola protocols in place to prevent its spread.

However, so far all those found to have contracted LayV have survived, although more research is needed to determine the severity of the disease.

Is this a new pandemic in the making?

There was no evidence that those who contracted the virus had been in close contact or had a common exposure history, suggesting human infection may be sporadic, researchers said.

This makes it vastly different from infections such as Covid-19, which is highly transmissible.

The spread of disease from animals to humans, called zoonosis, is common, accounting for more than six out of every 10 known infections in people, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

Most of the time they cause limited disease, dying out without having a major effect.

Where did it come from?

Tests detected LayV in 27 per cent of shrews, a known vector for similar henipaviruses, suggesting the small mole-like mammals may be a natural reservoir of the virus.

What happens now and how have officials responded?

Further investigations are needed to better understand the infection, said the researchers from Beijing, Singapore and Australia who uncovered the virus.

The Centres for Disease Control in Taiwan said it planned to start screening for the virus.

However, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic more tracking systems now are in place and can detect novel pathogens.

Updated: August 11, 2022, 12:00 PM
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