Langya virus, which can cause fever, fatigue and nausea, has been found in 35 people in east China, researchers said.
Scientists in Asia have identified a new virus that can cause severe fever and was likely transmitted to humans from animals in eastern China.
Langya henipavirus (LayV) was found in 35 people in China’s Shandong and Henan provinces tested between 2018 and 2021, according to a Letter Published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The virus can cause acute fever, fatigue, cough and loss of appetite, the researchers said in the letter. Some patients also experienced body aches, nausea, vomiting and headaches, they said.
Some also had impaired liver function.
The researchers, based in China, Australia and Singapore, said LayV was first identified in December 2018 in a 53-year-old woman while monitoring patients with acute fever and recent animal contact.
The researchers then performed studies on domestic and wild animals to trace the animal host of the virus and found that Langya RNA was most prevalent in shrews, small mammals with long snouts and tiny eyes.
About 27 percent of the shrews tested positive for the virus, suggesting the animals may be “a natural reservoir of LayV,” they wrote.
About 5 percent of the dogs and 2 percent of the goats also tested positive, they said.
The discovery of LayV comes less than three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which scientists believe was also caused by virus transmissions from animals to humans.
But unlike SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the researchers behind the new study said they had found no evidence of human-to-human transmission for LayV so far.
“There was no close contact or shared history of exposure among patients, suggesting that infection may be sporadic in the human population,” they wrote.
“Contact tracing of 9 patients with 15 close contact family members revealed no transmission of LayV through close contact, but our sample size was too small to determine the human-to-human transmission status for LayV,” they added.
Wang Linfa, a professor at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School who was involved in the study, told China’s Global Times that the cases of LayV infection were neither fatal nor very serious.
There is no need to panic, the tabloid quoted him as saying.
The researchers said LayV was genetically most closely related to the deadly Mojiang henipavirus, which infected six miners in southern China in 2012. Three eventually died.
LayV also belongs to the same family as the Nipah and Hendra viruses.
Nipah virus was first identified in an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia 1999 and has also been identified in Bangladesh and India, according to the World Health Organization.
Nipah infection can be deadly, with 40 to 75 percent of those infected dying in previous outbreaks. It can be transmitted from animals such as bats and pigs to humans and from human to human.
Hendra virus was first identified in Australia in 1999 and has infected seven humans and more than 70 horses. The incidents were all confined to the northeast coast of Australia, the WHO said.
There is still no treatment or vaccine for henipavirus infection.