(The Hill) – A new virus has infected dozens of people in China, with researchers suggesting shrews might be a “natural reservoir” for the virus. Still, experts say the virus is likely not a major concern.
Research published in The New England Journal of Medicine last week said that the Langya henipavirus was found in 35 people in the Chinese provinces of Henan and Shandong.
Scientists said that 26 of those people had no other pathogen detected in their body besides Langya and had a range of symptoms, including nausea, fever, vomiting and cough.
“Among 25 species of wild small animals surveyed, [Langya] RNA was predominantly detected in shrews (71 of 262 [27%]), a finding that suggests that the shrew may be a natural reservoir of [Langya],” researchers said.
Researchers think there may be only “sporadic” infection among humans.
“There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients, which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic. Contact tracing of 9 patients with 15 close-contact family members revealed no close-contact [Langya] transmission, but our sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission for [Langya],” they said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are only two henipaviruses officials know of that cause disease in humans, the Hendra virus and the Nipah virus.
Humans can contract Hendra virus through direct contact with horses, or body fluids and tissues of infected horses, the CDC explains. Horses can only become infected through exposure to bat urine. Humans, however, cannot get the virus from bats and cannot transmit the virus to another human.
The CDC reports Nipah virus is transmitted through contact with pigs that are infected, or bats. The virus can be spread from person to person but only through close contact. Friends and family caring for an ill patient can facilitate transmission.
“Both Hendra and Nipah virus infections can cause a severe influenzalike illness with fever, myalgia, headache, and dizziness. This may progress to severe encephalitis with confusion, abnormal reflexes, seizures, and coma; respiratory symptoms may also be present,” according to the CDC. Neither virus has been reported in the U.S.
Francois Balloux, the director of the University College London (UCL) Genetics Institute, said that because Langya henipavirus was first detected in humans in 2018, it was an indicator that virus is not rapidly contagious.
“Other Henipaviruses can infect humans. Nipah virus in particular is a cause of concern as it [is] known to transmit between humans, but it is so lethal that it doesn’t have ‘pandemic potential’. LayV looks far less lethal but probably doesn’t transmit easily from human to human,” he tweeted.
“At this stage, LayV doesn’t look like a repeat of COVID-19 at all, but it is yet another reminder of the looming threat caused by the many pathogens circulating in populations of wild and domestic animals that have the potential to infect humans,” he added in a separate tweet.