China sounds alarm as dozens fall ill with ‘newly identified’ Langya virus thought to have jumped from animals

Doctors have raised the alarm over a brand new virus that has infected dozens of people in China.

‘Langya’ henipavirus — or LayV — was detected in 35 people in the country’s eastern Henan and Shandong provinces.

It belongs to a family of viruses that are known to kill up to three quarters of humans in severe cases. 

None of the new cases have resulted in death and most are mild, with patients experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The novel virus is thought to have been passed on by shrews — small mammals from the same family as hedgehogs and moles. 

A study published last revealed the virus was first detected in humans in 2019, with the most recent cases this year.

Chinese experts investigating the virus believe human cases are ‘sporadic’. They are still trying to work out if it can spread from person to person.

Researchers led by the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology published their findings on the virus, also known as LayV, in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine

They spotted the first case before January 2019 in Shandong, before a cluster of 14 cases were found over the following year in both provinces.

No infections were found during the first year of the pandemic in January to July in 2020, with researchers pausing work to prevent the spread of Covid.

But 11 more were found from that month onwards. 

Researchers tracked symptoms in patients to see how badly people were affected by the virus. 

The most common symptom suffered by Langya patients was fever, with all people infected coming down with a temperature.

It was followed by fatigue (54 per cent), cough (50 percent), loss of appetite (50 per cent), muscle aches (46 per cent) and feeling queasy (38 per cent).

Around 35 per cent suffered liver problems while 8 per cent saw a fall in kidney function.

They also tracked the virus in animal populations to see whether it was being spread by domestic and wild animals, or if human-to-human transmission may have been to blame. 

Chinese researchers found the virus in 71 of 262 shrews — a small mole-like mammal — surveyed in the two Chinese provinces where the outbreak started. 

Alongside shrews, the virus was also spotted in dogs (5 per cent) and goats (2 per cent).

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.’

Langya is hepinavirus — the same family as Nipah virus, which is a deadly pathogen that is usually found in bats.

Like Covid, Nipah can spread through respiratory droplets. But it is far more deadly, killing up to three-quarters of people it infects. 

It has been listed as one of the viruses most likely to cause the next pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The brain-swelling virus was first discovered in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999, when 300 cases led to 100 deaths. 

There is currently no Nipah vaccine approved for humans — but at least eight are currently being tested on animals, including one made by Oxford University.