New virus outbreak: As Langya spreads across China, just how worried should we be?
A new virus, Langya, is suspected to have caused infections in 35 people in China’s Shandong and Henan provinces.
It’s related to Hendra and Nipah viruses, which cause disease in humans.
However, there’s much we don’t know about the new virus – known as LayV for short – including whether it spreads from human to human.
Therefore, City A.M. caught up with one of the world’s leading experts in this field, Allen Cheng, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Monash University.
He has shared what we know so far, including how sick people are getting, where the virus came from and what we can learn from related viruses.
How sick do people get?
Researchers in China first detected this new virus as part of routine surveillance in people with a fever who had reported recent contact with animals. Once the virus was identified, the researchers looked for the virus in other people.
Cheng said symptoms reported appeared to be mostly mild – fever, fatigue, cough, loss of appetite, muscle aches, nausea and headache – although we don’t know how long the patients were unwell.
“A smaller proportion had potentially more serious complications, including pneumonia, and abnormalities in liver and kidney function,” he added.
“However, the severity of these abnormalities, the need for hospitalisation, and whether any cases were fatal were not reported,” Cheng noted.
Where does this virus come from?
The authors also investigated whether domestic or wild animals may have been the source of the virus.
“Although they found a small number of goats and dogs that may have been infected with the virus in the past, there was more direct evidence a significant proportion of wild shrews were harbouring the virus,” Cheng said.
This suggests humans may have caught the virus from wild shrews, he added.
What about related viruses?
This new virus appears to be a close cousin of two other viruses that are significant in humans: Nipah virus and Hendra virus. This family of viruses was the inspiration for the fictional MEV-1 virus in the film Contagion.
Hendra virus was first reported in Queensland in 1994, when it caused the deaths of 14 horses and the trainer Vic Rail.
“Many outbreaks in horses have been reported in Queensland and northern New South Wales since, and are generally thought to be due to “spillover” infections from flying foxes,” Cheng noted.
He stressed that, in total, seven human cases of Hendra virus have been reported in Australia, mostly veterinarians working with sick horses, including four deaths.
“At this stage, there is no indication the virus can spread from human to human.”Allen Cheng
Nipah virus is more significant globally, with outbreaks frequently reported in Bangladesh, Cheng continued.
“The severity of infection can range from very mild to fatal encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.”
The first outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore was reported in people who had close contact with pigs.
“However, it is thought more recent outbreaks have been due to food contaminated with the urine or saliva of infected bats,” Cheng explained.
Significantly, Nipah virus appears to be transmitted from person to person, mostly among household contacts, he said.
What is next?
Little is known about this new virus, and the currently reported cases are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
“At this stage, there is no indication the virus can spread from human to human,” Cheng stressed.
“Further work is required to determine how severe the infection can be, how it spreads, and how widespread it might be in China and the region,” he concluded.