Newly IDed Virus in China Looks to Be a 'Viral Spillover'

Langya appears to have passed from shrews to humans, infecting dozens, though with no fatalities
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 10, 2022 9:03 AM CDT
Newly IDed Virus in China Looks to Be a 'Viral Spillover'
A lesser white-toothed shrew, suspected host of the Langya virus.   (Getty Images/phototrip)

(Newser) – Scientists have identified a virus in China that appears to have spread from animals to dozens of humans—a "zoonotic" spread—though they're urging that there's "no need to panic." Citing a study by researchers in China, Singapore, and Australia published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Guardian reports that the so-called novel Langya henipavirus, or LayV, was first detected at the end of 2018 in Shandong and Henan provinces. The researchers say the virus appears to have originated in shrews, as they found viral LayV RNA in more than 25% of the 250-plus shrews tested, suggesting the shrew could be "a natural reservoir."

A small percentage of domestic goats and dogs were also found to have been infected. Of the 35 human cases cited in the study, most of the infected individuals were farmers, while others included factory workers. Researchers, who didn't find any common exposure source among the observed cases, say there isn't yet any evidence that the virus can pass from human to human. Symptoms include cough, fatigue, achy muscles, and lack of appetite, with one common denominator in all the registered cases: fever. Thanks to genetic sequencing, it was discovered that Langya belongs to the henipavirus family, which includes a handful of other viruses, two of them deemed severe by the CDC, with "high case-fatality ratios," per the Washington Post.

However, no deaths have resulted thus far from LayV, and study co-author Lin-Fa Wang tells the Global Times that none of the cases had even been "very serious," adding there was "no need for panic," per the Guardian. A University College London professor of computational systems biology backs up that assertion, telling the Post that LayV does not "look like a repeat of COVID-19 at all." The paper adds that 70% of emerging infectious diseases in humans are "viral spillovers" from animals—a not uncommon phenomenon, especially as humans and animals interact more thanks to urban sprawl, deforestation, and unregulated wildlife trade. (Read more infectious diseases stories.)

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