A new virus outbreak in China is once more raising concerns about global health. On August 8, China reported the first case of the novel Langya Henipavirus (LayV) in a human and so far, 35 cases have been reported from the country.
The new virus outbreak comes less than three years of the Coronavirus outbreak and scientists say that this, too, could be potentially fatal to humans.
According to reports, health experts have said that LayV can cause severe illness in animals and humans, and at present, there are no licensed drugs or vaccines meant for humans.
When was the virus first detected?
The novel LayV was first detected in the northeastern provinces of Shandong and Henan in 2018.
The virus detected in humans was first mentioned in a study, “A Zoonotic Henipavirus in Febrile Patients in China”, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Contributions for the articles came in from studies based in China, Singapore, and Australia.
What is the Langya virus?
The LayV is said to have jumped from animals to humans through a process called ‘zoonosis’.
Scientists have reportedly found the LayV viral RNA in over 200 shrews they have tested. Hence, it is believed that shrews are the natural reservoir of the virus. According to The Guardian, the virus was also detected in 2 per cent of domestic goats and 5 per cent of dogs.
Langya is part of the genus Henipavirus, which has a single-stranded RNA genome with a negative orientation and it is an emerging cause of zoonosis in the Asia-Pacific region, reports India Today.
Shrews have mostly tested positive for the virus, although dogs and goats, too, have, at a lower rate.
Langya belongs to the same family as the deadly Nipah virus that is typically found in bats. Nipah also spreads through respiratory droplets like Covid-19 but is far more dangerous as it kills up to three-quarters of humans, states a report by PTI.
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Symptoms of LayV in humans
The Langya virus was found in the throat samples from febrile patients in the aforementioned provinces. Besides, of the 35 people identified as having contracted the virus, nine were asymptomatic.
A report by Hindustan Times states that a study led by Chinese researchers revealed that the most common symptom of the virus is fever. It was followed by cough (50 per cent), fatigue (54 per cent), loss of appetite (50 per cent), muscle aches (46 per cent), and the tendency to vomit (38 per cent).
The virus has also been linked with lower white blood cell counts in infected patients, as well as reduced liver failure and kidney function.
A report by The Tapei Times states that although there have been no cases of human-to-human infection, the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) has warned that the same might change if the outbreak spreads further.
What is the next course of action?
Wang Linfa, a Professor in the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School who was involved in the study said that the cases of Langya henipavirus so far have not been fatal or very serious, so there is no need for panic.
According to CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-Hsiang, the agency will soon establish a standardised process for domestic laboratories to perform genome sequencing and bolster surveillance.
Chuang further noted that laboratories in Taiwan will further need a standardised nucleic acid testing method to identify the virus which will help in tracking the infection in humans.
In a press release, CDC stated that it is working with the Chinese Council of Agriculture to attempt to identify whether other viruses are found in species native to Shandong and Henan provinces.
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Is there a vaccination?
So far there is no vaccination available for the novel virus.
What are the chances of a human-to-human infection?
Human-to-human cases have not been reported so far. However, the CDC noted that they are yet to determine the details of the spread of the virus and has asked people to pay close attention to the outbreak and animal exposure.
Chuang He aid that the 35 infected individuals did not have close contact with each other or common exposure history. Reports note that a contact tracing also showed no viral transmission among close contacts.