New Concerning Langya Virus Identified in China—Here’s What You Need to Know

·4 min read
New Concerning Langya Virus Identified in China—Here’s What You Need to Know
  • Langya henipavirus, also known as Langya virus, has been detected in China.

  • 35 People have been diagnosed with the virus so far.

  • To date, the virus does not appear to spread between humans.

A new virus has been identified in China that’s raising eyebrows. It’s called the Langya virus, or the Langya henipavirus, and, while it was first detected in some eastern provinces in China as far back as 2018, it was just formally identified by researchers last week.

The virus is detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine, which breaks it all down. According to the paper, 35 people have been diagnosed with Langya henipavirus (LayV) and, of those, the only potential pathogen found in 26 of them was Langya henipavirus. Meaning, Langya henipavirus was the only thing that could have made them sick.

Most of the 35 cases were in farmers, while other people who developed the virus were factory workers. To date, it doesn’t seem to be something that has spread between humans. “Contact tracing of nine patients with 15 close-contact family members revealed no close-contact LayV transmission,” the researchers wrote. But, they added, “our sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission.”

Given that we’re still living through a pandemic thanks to COVID-19, and the ongoing outbreak of Monkeypox, it’s understandable to be wary of yet another new infectious disease. Here’s what you need to know about Langya virus and how it spreads. And, if infectious disease experts think it’s time to worry.

What is Langya virus, a.k.a. Langya henipavirus?

Langya henipavirus is a newly-identified zoonotic disease—meaning, it’s a virus that jumps from animals to humans.

“Henipavirus is a genus of viruses in the Paramyxoviridae family that include both Hendra and Nipah viruses,” says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Hendravirus and Nipah viruses are “much more lethal,” says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York.

Still, “any time a new virus is found to be capable of infecting humans and causing illness, it is concerning—especially if the virus comes from a viral family known to be efficient at infected humans as the Paramyxoviridae family are,” Dr. Adalja says.

How is Langya henipavirus transmitted?

According to the New England Journal of Medicine paper, the virus seems to be transmitted from animals to humans. The researchers tested a slew of wild animals and found that more than 25% of 262 shrews tested also had the virus. (Shrews, in case you’re not familiar with them, are small, mouse-like animals.) It was also detected in 2% of goats and 5% of dogs that were tested, the paper says.

The finding “suggests that the shrew may be a natural reservoir,” the researchers wrote.

“Langya henipavirus appears at the moment to be limited to a couple of provinces in China,” says William Schaffner, M.D., infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “But, if it’s studied more widely, we may find that it’s more widely distributed.”

Dr. Schaffner stresses, though, that the virus “is not so far known to be transmitted from human to human.” Meaning, that a person catches it from an infected animal and then the virus doesn’t spread farther.

What are symptoms of Langya henipavirus?

In general, Langya henipavirus “produces relatively mild influenza-like illness,” Dr. Schaffner says. The paper specifically notes that people had the following symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Cough

  • Loss of appetite

  • Muscle aches

How is Langya henipavirus treated?

Since Langya henipavirus is a new virus, there’s no specific treatment for it. However, henipaviruses are usually treated with supportive care and management of any complications someone might experience, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also notes that the antiviral medication ribavirin has been effective in lab studies but it’s unclear at this point how effective it is in the real world.

How worried should you be about Langya henipavirus?

Experts aren’t overly concerned. “It was discovered over four years ago and we don’t have a ton of cases,” Dr. Russo says. “There’s also no evidence of human-to-human transmission and none of these individuals have died. It hasn’t taken over the world.”

While Dr. Russo says that researchers should continue to keep an eye on Langya henipavirus, he adds that there are “no grounds for panic.”

Dr. Adalja also shuts down comparisons of Langya henipavirus and COVID-19. “Just because COVID happened doesn’t mean everything has to be looked at through the lens of COVID,” he says.

Dr. Schaffner agrees, adding this simple advice: “Don’t freak out.”

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