Five things you need to know about Langya virus

A new virus has been discovered in China that is related to Nipah virus – here’s what we know so far.

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Novel Langya virus,3D rendering
 

 

It’s related to Nipah

Langya henipavirus (LayV) is related to Nipah virus and Hendra virus, which are RNA viruses in the family Paramyxoviridae. It was first described in the The New England Journal of Medicine on 4 August. So far, 35 cases of LayV have been identified, mostly in farmers, in the Shandong and Henan provinces of eastern China between December 2018 and May 2021. The virus was identified when a group of people with fever who had recently had exposure to animals were being monitored in eastern China. There is no specific treatment for it, other than supportive care to manage any complications.

Like Nipah and Hendra, that are often carried by fruit bats, LayV is also spread by a small mammal, in this case the shrew.

It causes respiratory symptoms

LayV can cause symptoms such as fever, cough and fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle ache, nausea and vomiting. More than half of cases (54%) had leukopenia, or an insufficient number of white blood cells that our bodies need to fight infection. Over a third (35%) had thrombocytopenia, a low number of blood-clotting cells called platelets. A third also had impaired liver function.

LayV has not been fatal, so far

So far no deaths have been reported from LayV in people known to have been infected. This is in contrast to both Nipah and Hendra, which can be fatal. Nipah, in particular, carries a 90% chance of dying, which is why countries like India have rushed to contain outbreaks whenever they have occurred.

It doesn’t spread easily between people

Thirty-five people are known to have been infected by Langya henipavirus in the Shandong and Henan provinces of China between December 2018 and May 2021. This means the virus is not spreading quickly or easily between people. In addition, there have been no clusters of cases in the same family – as can happen with COVID-19 for example – or clusters within a short time span or in close geographical proximity. 

None of the people infected seem to have been in contact with one another – the researchers undertook contact tracing for nine of the individuals, and reaching out to 15 of each patient’s close-contact family members revealed no LayV transmission. This suggests that the virus doesn’t pass from person to person, but rather animal to person. Even with Nipah virus, contact between people is not easy and requires close physical contact.

Shrews spread the virus

Like Nipah and Hendra, that are often carried by fruit bats, LayV is also spread by a small mammal, in this case the shrew. On testing wild animals in the area that cases were found in, LayV viral RNA was found in more than a quarter of 262 shrews. The virus was also found in 2% of domestic goats and 5% of dogs. This indicates the importance of surveillance for animal pathogens that could potentially cause the next pandemic in people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said an estimated three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.