Picture source: CDC
Recent reports from the eastern region of China in the New England Journal of Medicine mentioned 35 patients showing feverish symptoms, infected with a novel zoonotic virus (virus of animal origin that can infect humans). The virus, Langya henipavirus (LayV), was named after the town “Langya“ where the first patient infected with it was identified.
Right from the start, it is important to mention that there is no need for panic, as the Langya virus is not transmissible easily nor does it have a high death rate. Even though a new pandemic is not in sight, close monitoring of the virus is highly recommended.
Patients were recruited to the study if they had a fever and if they had been exposed to an animal within a month of the start of their symptoms. Samples used in the study were serums and throat swabs (throat swab is exactly how the first virus was isolated!). The patient cohort consisted of mostly farmers and there were no known connections between any of the 35 cases. All 35 cases were documented since 2018.
A little bit about the virus: it belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family of viruses (like measles or mumps). There are plenty of henipaviruses described in bats, rats and shrews. However, only Hendra, Nipah, and LayV can infect people according to what we know so far (Hendra and Nipah virus are known to be be fatal!). During infection with LayV, symptoms can range from a simple cough to pneumonia, with fever being most dominant in 100% of patients.
To find the origin of the virus, an investigation took place in the residence village where infected people originated from. The investigation identified presence of specific IgG (suggesting a past infection) antibody detection and viral RNA in 4 species of domestic animals and 25 species of wild animals. Even though 2% of goats and 5% of dogs had the antibodies present, the RNA was mostly detected in shrews (27%), considering the shrew a source animal. However, there is no knowledge of whether the shrew can directly infect people or if there is an intermediate animal.
If we have learned anything from a recent pandemic, it is that we should be prepared, closely monitor zoonotic diseases; it is important to detect viruses as soon as possible and react accordingly. It is time to get our heads out of the sand and start working together for a better tomorrow.
Zhang XA, Li H, Jiang FC, Zhu F, Zhang YF, Chen JJ, Tan CW, Anderson DE, Fan H, Dong LY, Li C, Zhang PH, Li Y, Ding H, Fang LQ, Wang LF, Liu W. A Zoonotic Henipavirus in Febrile Patients in China. N Engl J Med. 2022 Aug 4;387(5):470-472. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2202705.
Article author: Ines Poljak. Ines is a MSc graduate from University of Copenhangen who worked on multiple myeloma bone disease. She worked in several clinical laboratories before committing herself completely to research.
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