Scientists say China’s ‘deadly’ Langya virus isn’t a repeat of Covid amid rising case numbers

Shrews, a small mammal, have been identified as possible carriers of the disease

Gino Spocchia
Wednesday 10 August 2022 14:59 BST

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Cases of a “deadly” virus on the rise in eastern China are not a cause for alarm, scientists have said amid comparisons with Covid-19.

So far, 35 cases of the disease known as Langya henipavirus (LayV), or Langya,  have been confirmed among farmers in two eastern provinces of China, with no deaths reported.

Langya, which has reportedly caused symptoms including coughing, fatigue, headaches and vomiting, is a member of the Hendra virus and the Nipah virus family. It can cause “fatal disease in humans,” but did not appear to have similar outcomes.

Outlining their findings in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Chinese scientists said the farmers did not have contact before being diagnosed with Langya and that there was no indication of person to person contact.

That means the newly emergent  virus did not appear to be spreading in the same way Covid-19 did in the build-up to the global pandemic.

“There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients,” the scientists wrote in the study, “which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic”.

Although better research is needed to fully understand the Langya virus, other scientists have echoed the study’s findings.

“At this stage, LayV doesn’t look like a repeat of COVID-19 at all,” wrote Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London (UCL), in a tweet.

“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 continued.

The Chinese study found traces of the Langya virus in 27 per cent of shrews swabbed during the study, suggesting the small mammal – a known carrier of similar viruses – could be behind recent cases.

Balloux, the UCL director, added that it was possible Langya would “ have gone unnoticed 20 years ago” because of advances in diseases monitoring and research.

“The proportion of people dying from communicable diseases has been decreasing for decades pre-Covid19,” he wrote in the study. “The impact of Covid will be noticeable for 2020/21, but it is not obvious that the long-term trend of lower deaths due to infections will be reversed.”

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