Emergence of Langya virus in China ‘not surprising’, infectious disease expert says

To date, 35 people have been infected with Langya henipavirus (LayV) across two provinces in eastern China.

The novel disease was first detected in late 2018, but a formal identification was only made last week with a letter sent to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Sanjaya Senanayake, a specialist in infectious diseases and associate professor of medicine at the Australian National University, said cases should be tracked closely.

LayV is a henipavirus, with two other deadly viruses members of the same family.

“The reason to be vigilant about this virus is that it is a henipavirus, which comes from the same family as Hendra and Nipah, both of which have caused deaths in humans,” he said.

“Nipah has also been associated with person-to-person transmission.”

More than a quarter of 262 shrews surveyed had detectable levels of LayV, suggesting the small mammal may be the virus’ natural reservoir. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
A 3D illustration of Hendra virus, a bat-borne virus associated with a highly fatal infection in horses and humans.
A 3D illustration of Hendra virus, a bat-borne virus associated with a highly fatal infection in horses and humans. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Senanayake said there was no need to panic about LayV just yet.

“Regarding this infection, it is still early days but there are some reassuring signs,” he says.

“Namely, that there haven’t been deaths or many serious illnesses from it.

“That there don’t seem to have been many cases – the earliest case seems to have been 2018 – and that person-to person-transmission hasn’t been found, unlike monkeypox and COVID-19.”

The subvariants and mutations of COVID-19

Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control is monitoring the spread of the virus.

Senanayake said he was not surprised about the emergence of the novel virus.

“Over the last five decades, there have been around 50 new infections described,” he said.

“The vast majority, such as LayV, monkeypox and COVID-19, are viruses that have jumped from the animal to the human world.”

The shrew, a small mole-like mammal, is believed to be the natural reservoir of the virus, however it has also been found in domestic animals, including dogs and goats, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

Those majority of the patients infected with the virus have contact with animals.

Symptoms of LayV include: fever, fatigue, a cough, loss of appetite, muscle pain, nausea, headache and vomiting.

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