At least 35 people have been infected with a new virus in China since 2018. The virus, called Langya (LayV) belongs to the Henipavirus family, the same to which the Hendra and Nipah viruses belong, both with high lethality. Early data suggest that the new virus lacks the ability to spread effectively in humans and that it is less aggressive than its close relatives. The news was reported by researchers from various Chinese institutions in the New England Journal of Medicine. The investigation that led to the identification of the new virus started from a 53-year-old patient hospitalized at the end of 2018 for fever and other flu-like symptoms in a Chinese hospital where surveillance for potentially animal infections was active.
Since then, 35 patients infected with the virus have been identified in Shandong and Henan provinces. Among the 26 patients infected with the Langya virus alone and whose clinical conditions the researchers report, all had fever, about half suffered from fatigue, cough, anorexia, muscle pain, lack of white blood cells; about one third had nausea, headache, vomiting, platelet deficiency, impaired liver function; less than 1 in 10 kidney problems. There is currently no vaccine or treatment for henipavirus; the only therapy is the management of complications.
No deaths were reported among the 26 patients. The virus does not appear to be able to pass smoothly from human to human: “There was no close contact or common exposure history among patients, suggesting that infection in the human population may be sporadic,” the researchers write. The tracing of patients’ contacts also did not document any contagion. The survey among animals that came into contact with patients showed a high presence of the virus in shrews, which could be a natural reservoir of LayV.
According to the World Health Organization, however, henipaviruses are classified with a biosecurity level 4, i.e. with mortality rates between 40 and 75%. Much higher than Covid.