It will soon be almost three years since the novel coronavirus was discovered and now a new zoonotic virus that can cause fever has been recently detected in the country. A team of scientists are tracking the spread of the new virus, called Langya Henipavirus or LayV, that was likely transmitted from animals (shrews) to humans.

LayV was found in 35 people in the Shandong and Henan provinces of China, according to a research published in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 4, 2022.

Henipavirus is a group of viruses in the Paramyxoviridae family and of the five identified Henipaviruses, Hendra and Nipah viruses are highly virulent emerging pathogens that cause outbreaks in humans and are associated with high case-fatality ratios, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three additional species — Cedar virus, Ghanaian bat virus, and Mojiang virus — are not known to infect humans.

Hendra virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected horses or body fluids or tissues of infected horses; horses are infected through exposure to bat urine. While Hendra virus is not transmitted from person to person or directly from bats to humans, Nipah virus is transmitted through contact with infected pigs or bats. Person-to-person transmission of Nipah virus has been reported through close contact with infected people, according to the CDC.

The Langya henipavirus (LayV), postulated to be causing the illness reported in 35 patients, is a member of the henipavirus genus, most closely related to the Mojiang henipavirus, reported in rats in 2012, Dr Lancelot Mark Pinto, consultant pulmonologist and epidemiologist at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, told FactChecker.

Langya Virus: Symptoms & Treatment

Of the 35 patients reported in the NEJM study, 26 patients had no other detected infection, leading to the hypothesis that the Langya virus was responsible for their illness. Fever was the most common symptom observed in all patients, followed by fatigue that more than half of the patients suffered through (54%), cough (50%), anorexia (50%), myalgia (46%), nausea (38%), headache (35%), and vomiting (35%).

The patients also experienced abnormalities of thrombocytopenia [low platelet count] (35%), leukopenia [drop in white blood cell count] (54%), and impaired liver (35%) and kidney function (8%).

The study also showed that the virus came from animals as antibodies were found in them. Moreover, according to a serosurvey, domestic animals like goats (2%) and dogs (5%) were detected with seropositivity. Among 25 species of wild small animals surveyed, LayV was predominantly detected in shrews (27%), further suggesting that the shrew may be a natural reservoir of LayV.

Is Langya Virus Fatal?

Unlike COVID-19, there has been no reported human-to-human transmission of the virus yet. However, researchers of the study have highlighted that due to the small sample size of the study, human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out.

"They [the patients] had anomalies in their blood cells, and some had their liver and kidney function affected. The outcomes were not reported, but based on the symptom and laboratory profile, it does seem like the virus could have the potential for causing severe disease and death," cautioned Dr Pinto.

While there is no specific treatment for LayV virus, the pulmonologist said paracetamol was given to patients for fever, cough and Intravenous fluids when necessary. He also cautioned to watch out for signs of bleeding if the platelet count is low, secondary bacterial infections and that patients must be supported with oxygen/ventilators when needed and dialysis when indicated by their doctor.

The virus was detected by surveillance and Dr Pinto suggested that the Indian government should ramp up surveillance measures to detect emerging infections, both among humans, and among animals to find potential spillover events.

"It is not uncommon at all for individuals to have undiagnosed fever in India, and without surveillance, we could easily miss outbreaks," concluded Dr Pinto.