Only 35 cases discovered so far but most patients did report fever and fatigue from disease also linked to liver and kidney impairment
However, just 35 cases of Langya Henipavirus have been diagnosed so far and none have proven deadly or caused serious illness, according to Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Its discovery was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine on 4 August in a study entitled “A Zoonotic Henipavirus in Febrile Patients in China”.
“There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients, which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic,” the study stated.
Transferred from animals to humans, the Langya virus appears to be particularly prevalent in shrews, with dogs and goats also testing positive for the disease at lower rates, according to the research.
What are the symptoms of the Langya virus?
The majority of the patients diagnosed with the virus thus far have developed a range of flu-like symptoms including fever (100 per cent), fatigue (54 per cent), cough (50 per cent) and muscle aches and pains (46 per cent), nausea (38 per cent), headaches and vomiting (both 35 per cent).
It has also been linked with lower white blood cell counts in infected patients, as well as impaired liver and reduced kidney function.
Of the 35 patients identified between December 2018 and May 2021 (most of whom are farmers), nine were asymptomatic. That works out to roughly one in four.
The reason for concern is that two previous forms of henipavirus – the Hendra virus and Nipah virus, discovered in Australia in 1994 and Malaysia in 1999 respectively – have both likewise proved transmissible by animals and had high fatality rates.
However, virologists have so far been keen to allay such fears.
“The only henipavirus that has shown some sign of human-to-human transmission is the Nipah virus and that requires very close contact,” Olivier Restiff of the University of Cambridge told New Scientist.
“I don’t think this has much pandemic potential.”
Francis Balloux of University College London agreed but did warn: “The vast majority of our pathogens come from animal populations. I think we should be better prepared for an event like Covid-19 happening. I think it’s very likely this will happen in the coming decades.”
Nevertheless, Chuang Jen-hsiang, deputy director of Taiwan’s CDC, said its laboratories were working on a standardised nucleic acid testing method to identify the virus, so that human infections could be monitored.