The newly identified Langya virus was tracked after China reported dozens of cases

Researchers have begun tracking a newly identified virus in China, with dozens of cases reported so far.

The novel Langya henipavirus (LayV) was the first detected in the northeastern provinces of Shandong and Henan in late 2018, but was only formally identified by scientists last week.

The virus was likely transmitted from animals to humans, the scientists said, and Taiwan’s health authority is now monitoring the spread. The researchers tested wild animals and found LayV viral RNA in more than a quarter of 262 shrews, “a finding that suggests the shrew may be a natural reservoir.” The virus was also detected in 2% of domestic goats and 5% of dogs.

Initial research into the virus was described in correspondence published by scientists from China, Singapore and Australia in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) last week.

In people, the virus caused symptoms such as fever, fatigue, cough, loss of appetite and muscle aches. All the infected people had a fever, the scientists said. The virus was the only potential pathogen found in 26 of the 35 people, suggesting that “LayV was the cause of the febrile illness.”

There have been no LayV deaths so far. Professor Wang Linfa of Duke-NUS Medical School, co-author of the NEJM paper, told the state-run Global Times that LayV cases had “not been fatal or very serious” so far and that “there was no need of panic”.

Researchers said it was still unclear whether the virus can be transmitted between people. Most of the 35 cases occurred in farmers, and other infected people included factory workers. “Contact tracing of nine patients with 15 close contact relatives did not reveal any close contact LayV transmission, but our sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission,” they find the researchers.

The scientists sequenced the LayV genome and determined that it was a henipavirus, a category of zoonotic RNA viruses that also includes Hendra virus and Nipah virus. Hendra virus, which affects horses and humans and originated in Australia, and Nipah virus, which has caused disease outbreaks in Southeast Asia, have been associated with high mortality rates.

LayV is most closely related to the Mojiang virus, which was discovered in southern China.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Sunday that it would implement genome sequencing and surveillance measures for the virus, the Central Taiwan News Agency reported.

Chuang Jen-hsiang, deputy director general of Taiwan’s CDC, said at a press conference that the agency was investigating transmission routes and would work with the Agriculture Council to investigate similar diseases in species native to Taiwan.

Infectious disease experts have long warned that the climate crisis and the destruction of nature will increase the risk of viruses being transmitted from animals to humans, in events known as “zoonotic spillovers”.

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