Virus discovered in China carried by shrews unlikely to become the next COVID, scientists suggest

  • A new virus discovered in eastern China has infected at least 35 people between 2018 and 2021.
  • The pathogen, identified as the Langya henipavirus, or LayV, is believed to be carried by shrews and causes fever, coughs, headaches, nausea and other symptoms in humans.
  • Scientists involved in the first research into LayV did not find a link between the 35 cases, which suggests there is no human-to-human transmission.
  • While the virus is not expected to cause another epidemic or pandemic, the scientists’ findings shed light on the frequency of zoonotic spillovers.

A virus recently discovered in eastern China is unlikely to cause another pandemic, according to scientists involved in its research.

The pathogen, identified as the Langya henipavirus, has so far infected 35 people in Shandong and Henan provinces from 2018 to 2021. The first case reportedly involved a 53-year-old Qingdao city farmer who sought medical treatment for a fever, cough, headaches and nausea.

Also known as “LayV,” the virus is believed to be carried by shrews — small, mole-like mammals that are somehow among the most voracious mammalian predators on Earth — which might have infected humans directly or through another animal. Its genome reveals that it is most closely related to the Mojiang henipavirus, which was first found in rats in an abandoned mine in Yunnan province in 2012, according to Nature.

A team of Chinese and international scientists published the first study into the virus in the New England Journal of Medicine on Aug. 4. With COVID-19 still affecting many parts of the world, the news quickly raised concerns.

However, the researchers did not find evidence that LayV spreads between humans, with the 35 detected cases being sporadic and unrelated. No deaths related to the virus have been reported thus far.

Linfa Wang, an emerging infectious disease scientist involved in the research, told CNN that LayV is unlikely to evolve into “another ‘disease X’ event,” or one that causes an epidemic or pandemic. Still, their study “does demonstrate that such zoonotic spillover events happen more often than we think or know.”

Francois Balloux, a professor of computational biology systems at University College London, who was not involved in the study, shares the same position.

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

Still, the researchers acknowledged that their sample size “was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission.” Needless to say, more research is necessary to officially rule it out.


Featured Image via Pixabay

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