DOCTORS in China have sounded the alarm over a newly detected virus.
“Langya” virus has infected 35 people so far in two provinces in eastern China, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said.
The virus – officially named Langya henipavirus (LayV) – is entirely novel, meaning it has not infected humans before.
However, it is in the Henipavirus family, of which two species have been identified before – the Hendra virus and Nipah virus.
These produce often severe and fatal illnesses in people – and there are no vaccines or treatments.
Henipavirus is classified as biosafety Level 4 with case fatality rates between 40 and 75 per cent, according to the data from World Health Organization (WHO).
None of the 35 patients who are infected with the new Langya virus have died, and none have been serious, according to the Global Times.
In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), scientists in China reported that the patients were tested because they were febrile.
The patients had a history of contact with animals, the paper said.
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But, given there is a cluster of cases, it suggests the virus may have passed between humans already.
The paper said: “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 nine patients with 15 close-contact family members revealed no close-contact LayV transmission.
“But our sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission for LayV.”
It was suspected by the scientists that shrews were the most obvious carrier of Langya virus among 25 animals studied.
It is reminiscent of the Covid pandemic days, when China reported only a handful of novel coronavirus cases which were thought to be only related to animal transmission.
Zoonotic diseases – those that jump from animal to humans – are increasingly becoming a global health worry.
So-called “Disease X” is thought to be just around the corner, experts say, causing another huge pandemic.
Several factors are causing more of these viruses, which include Covid, Zika and Ebola, to emerge.
These include the destruction of natural habitats, wildlife consumption and trade, and climate change.
The brain-swelling virus has caused only a handful of outbreaks in the past two decades.
But it has the potential to cause a pandemic, the CDC warns.
Meanwhile, Hendra virus was first found in 1994 in Brisbane, Australia, with bats identified as the source.
Only seven cases of the virus have been reported.