Dangerous new zoonotic virus spreads, causing health scare

A new zoonotic virus – meaning a virus derived from animals – has jumped to humans and put health authorities on high alert, after reports that it has infected at least 35 people in China’s Shandong and Henan provinces.

The discovery of the novel zoonotic Langya henipavirus (LayV) was highlighted in a letter written by researchers from China, Singapore, and Australia and published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) earlier this month.

LayV, which researchers detected predominantly in shrews, belongs to the Paramyxoviride family, which can cause fatal disease.

Wang Linfa from the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, one of the researchers who wrote the letter, told China’s state-run Global Times that “the cases of Langya henipavirus so far have not been fatal or very serious, so there is no need for panic.”

He pointed out, however, that “there is still a need to be alert as many viruses have unpredictable results when they infect humans.”

According to a recent study from the NEJM, titled “A Zoonotic Henipavirus in Febrile Patients in China,” this is the first time the virus has been detected in humans.

Biosafety Level 4 zoonotic virus

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was among the first to react to the news, stressing, as quoted by Focus Taiwan, that it’s “paying close attention to the development.”

“The CDC will soon establish a standardized procedure for domestic laboratories to conduct genome sequencing and strengthen surveillance,” continued Taiwan’s CDC.

Taiwan CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang announced at a press briefing that “the standardized method for genome sequencing is expected to be completed within a week or so.” The CDC is “focused on researching routes of transmission.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies henipavirus as a biosafety Level 4 virus with case fatality rates between 40-75%, which is much higher than the fatality rate of the coronavirus.

Researchers noted LayV “was identified in a throat swab sample from one patient by means of metagenomic analysis and subsequent virus isolation.” The new zoonotic virus is “most phylogenetically related to Mojiang henipavirus,” which can cause lethal pneumonia.

That’s why they noted the need for further assessments to see if it could have a cross-reaction with the Mojiang.

According to the study’s summary, 26 of 35 infected LayV patients were infected with LayV only, meaning there were no other pathogens present.

No vaccine or treatment available for new zoonotic virus

The only treatment for henipavirus is supportive care to manage complications since there is currently no vaccine or treatment.

LayV belongs to the Nipah virus family the WHO has listed as one of the ten most important pathogens to monitor and prepare countermeasures to prevent the next pandemic.

According to the researchers who monitored the infections, LayV shares similarities with the flu, including fever, cough, headache, muscle soreness, fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea, among other symptoms.

Among the more serious abnormalities the virus can cause are reduced kidney function, a deficiency in blood platelet count, impaired liver, and loss in white cells.

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