Scientists say more research and monitoring is needed for a new virus detected in dozens of people in eastern China that suggests just how easily viruses can travel unnoticed from animals to humans.
The virus, named Langya henipavirus, infected nearly three dozen farmers and other residents, according to a team of scientists who believe it may have spread directly or indirectly to people from shrews. Shrews are small mole-like mammals found in a wide variety of habitats.
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.
The finding reveals that animal viruses are regularly getting transmitted undetected into people around the world.
Up to 26 of those infected with the virus that is reportedly passed on from shrews appear to be suffering from flu-like symptoms.
These include fever, tiredness, cough, headache, and vomiting.
“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 Virus expert Leo Poon, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.
While the virus was only formally discovered last week, it was first detected in the northeastern Chinese provinces mentioned above back in 2018.
The US CDC is currently monitoring the virus spread, and is reportedly in the process of setting up domestic laboratories for genome sequencing and boosted surveillance according to reports.
Researchers have also kept tabs on “Lanya” to find out more about the novel disease.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, an international team of researchers found that “the shrew may be a natural reservoir” for the virus after finding LayV viral RNA in more than 25 percent of 262 shrews when conducting testing on the animals.