At least 35 people in China have been found to have the newly discovered Langya henipavirus or LayV virus reports said Friday.
The virus was detected after dozens of people became sick following contacts with animals.
The patients, who are mainly farmers, reported fatigue, cough, loss of appetite and aches, with several people developing blood cells abnormalities and signs of liver and kidney damage.
LayV is from the same family as the deadly Nipah and Hendra viruses.
Following a 2018 outbreak of Nipah in the Indian state of Kerala, 17 of the 19 people infected died and the government put Ebola protocols in place to prevent its spread.
However, so far all those found to have contracted LayV have survived, although more research is needed to determine the severity of the disease.
Further investigations are needed to understand the infection better, said the researchers from Beijing, Singapore and Australia who uncovered the virus.
The pathogen did not cause any reported deaths, but was detected in 35 unrelated fever patients in hospitals in Shandong and Henan provinces between 2018 and 2021, the scientists said — a finding in tune with longstanding warnings from scientists that animal viruses are regularly spilling undetected into people around the world.
“We are hugely underestimating the number of these zoonotic cases in the world, and this (Langya virus) is just the tip of the iceberg,” said emerging virus expert Leo Poon, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, who was not involved in the latest study.
The first scientific research on the virus, published as a correspondence from a team of Chinese and international researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, received global attention due to heightened concern over disease outbreaks. Hundreds of thousands of new Covid-19 cases are still being reported worldwide each day, nearly three years since the novel coronavirus behind the pandemic was first detected in China.
However, the researchers say there is no evidence the Langya virus is spreading between people or that it had caused a local outbreak of connected cases. More study on a larger subset of patients is needed to rule out human-to-human spread, they added.
Veteran emerging infectious disease scientist Linfa Wang, who was part of the research team, told CNN that although the new virus was unlikely to evolve into “another ‘disease X’ event,” such as a previously unknown pathogen that sparks an epidemic or pandemic, “it does demonstrate that such zoonotic spillover events happen more often than we think or know.”
In order to reduce the risk of an emerging virus becoming a health crisis, “it is absolutely necessary to conduct active surveillance in a transparent and internationally collaborative way,” said Wang, a professor at the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School.