What is Langya? The new zoonotic virus infecting people in China

·2-min read
Researchers detected Langya virus predominantly in shrews. (DPA/AFP via Getty Images)
Researchers detected Langya virus predominantly in shrews. (DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

A new virus has been discovered by Chinese scientists with 35 people already infected, according to Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control (CDC). It has been given the name Langya henipavirus (LayV), and has so far been found across two provinces in eastern China. Though no one has become seriously ill or died.

What is the Langyavirus?

The Langya is an example of a Zoonotic Henipavirus. Zoonotic diseases are infectious disease transmitted between species; either from animals to humans, or from humans to animals. Think COVID-19, monkeypox and Hendra virus (HeV).

The virus sits within the Henipavirus family, and two other species have been identified before. The Hendra virus, which was first detected in the Brisbane suburb of the same name – and Nipah virus, both cause severe infections and can be fatal.

In terms of severity, The World Health Organisation classifies Henipavirus as a biosafety Level 4 threat. Biosafety levels are a set of precautions required to isolate dangerous biological agents, and Level 4 is the highest threat. Case fatality rates range between 40 and 75 per cent, data suggests, but no deaths have yet been reported.

Where was the Langyavirus first discovered?

So far identified in two provinces in eastern China (Shandong and Henan), Langya virus was first mentioned last week in a paper published by New England Journal of Medicine. It was contributed to by twelve different researchers based in China, Singapore, and Australia, and reveals that the virus was first detected in humans in 2018.

CDC Deputy Director General Chuang Jen-hsiang on Sunday said that according to the study, human-to-human transmission of the virus has not been reported, and that a survey of domestic animals found 2% of the tested goats and 5% of the tested dogs were positive.

Test results from 25 wild animal species suggest that the shrew might be a natural reservoir of the Langya henipavirus, as the virus was found in 27 percent of the shrew subjects, he added.

What are the symptoms of the Langyavirus?

The patients have reported flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, a cough, loss of appetite, muscle pain, nausea, a headache and vomiting. But it’s also possible to have the virus and not be aware. Of the 35 people identified as having contracted the virus, nine were asymptomatic.

Is there treatment or a vaccine for the Langyavirus?

There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the Langya virus.

It is newly detected so Taiwan’s laboratories will require a standardised nucleic acid testing method to identify the virus, so that if needed, human infections can be closely monitored, Taiwan’s CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang said.