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New virus identified in China. Here's what you need to know

A woman and boy wearing face masks walk near posters encouraging people to wear masks and avoid handshakes at a public park in Beijing, Wednesday. Tens of thousands of travelers remain stranded on the southern Chinese resort island of Hainan but a first planeload left Tuesday.

A woman and boy wearing face masks walk near posters encouraging people to wear masks and avoid handshakes at a public park in Beijing, Wednesday. Tens of thousands of travelers remain stranded on the southern Chinese resort island of Hainan but a first planeload left Tuesday. (Mark Schiefelbein, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A new virus has been identified in China.

The Langya henipavirus has been found in 35 people, mostly farmers, in the same eastern region where the first sample of the virus was collected in late 2018 from a farmer with a fever, according to a Washington Post report Wednesday on a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

None of the patients died, according to the study by researchers in China, Singapore and Australia, but all of the 26 determined to be infected only with the new virus had fevers and about half experienced fatigue, decreased white blood cell counts and coughs. More severe symptoms included kidney and liver issues, the newspaper said.

Langya is a henipavirus, a genus that includes two "highly virulent emerging pathogens that cause outbreaks in humans and are associated with high case-fatality ratios," in Australia and Southeast Asia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new virus is believed to have been transmitted to humans from shrews, a small mole-like mammal found around the world. Other henipaviruses are also transmitted by animals, including by horses exposed to urine from fruit bats carrying the disease, the CDC said, but one type can be spread by close contact with an infected person.

No evidence of human-to-human transmission of Langya has been found, the Post said, although researchers noted the small sample size. Also, no common sources of exposure were found among the patients, who did not have close contact, suggesting to researchers the infections may have been "sporadic," the newspaper reported.

The discovery follows the debate over the origin of COVID-19, first seen in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. A University of Utah virologist said a new study he co-authored makes it clear the coronavirus responsible for the ongoing pandemic came from a "wet market" where live animals were sold, not a Chinese laboratory.

A University College of London biology professor, Francois Balloux, said in a series of tweets that the new Langya virus he called LayV "would likely have gone unnoticed 20 years ago." But he said the increased ability to detect pathogen "spillovers" between animals and humans may or may not mean they're on the rise.

The professor noted the new virus is not spreading quickly in humans.

"At this stage, LayV doesn't look like a repeat of COVID-19 at all," Balloux tweeted, "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."

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HealthWorld
Lisa Riley Roche

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