A new virus was found in China, here's what we know
Scientists are keeping an eye on a new virus that appears to have been transmitted from animals to humans in China and causes symptoms similar to COVID-19 or the flu.
Researchers wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine last Thursday that 35 patients in the Shandong and Henan provinces of China were confirmed to have been infected by the Langya virus.
Dr. Donald Vinh, infectious disease specialist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, says while the general public shouldn't panic, the new virus is something that the medical and scientific community should be concerned about, as many questions remain unanswered.
"From a medical and scientific perspective, there is a concern because we need to understand how distributed is this virus. And more importantly, what's the range of disease severity that you can get with this virus? And that's what we don't know," he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Thursday.
"I think what we need to do is let the medical and scientific community focus on their concerns and get that information. Because until we have that information, there's really no need to panic."
Among the 35 patients, 26 were infected with the Langya virus only and had no other pathogens present. Of these patients, all of them had fevers and 54 per cent exhibited fatigue.
Coughing, loss of appetite, muscle aches, nausea, headaches and vomiting were other common symptoms. The 26 patients also had abnormalities in their blood tests as well as damage to their liver and kidneys.
"(That's) usually a harbinger of something a little bit more serious," Vinh said.
Contract tracing of nine patients and 15 close-contact family members found that there was no close-contact transmission of the virus, the researchers said, but they noted that the sample size was "too small to determine the status of human-to human transmission."
"There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients, which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic," they wrote.
The Langya virus belongs to a group of viruses known as henipaviruses, which researchers say "are known to infect humans and cause fatal disease." In 2018, there was an outbreak of Nipah virus, another henipavirus, which led to 17 deaths.
"One of the things that Nipah virus can do in addition to the flu symptoms, is it can actually infect the lungs or give you pneumonia. But more importantly, it can also infect the brain," said Vinh. "Unfortunately, we have no drugs or vaccines against Nipah virus. We certainly have nothing against this new Langya virus and that question mark is a concern."
Henipaviruses have been detected in bats and rodents, but this new virus may have come from shrews, as researchers say they detected the Langya virus's RNA in local shrew populations.
"Animals and insects … they have a habitat, they have a niche. And they also have their own biome, in a sense that they have germs, viruses and bacteria and other stuff that's inherent to them," Vinh explained.
Vinh says as human settlements continue to expand into existing animal habitats, this can result in more contact between humans and animals and more opportunities for a virus to potentially jump species.
"Human encroachment into the environment has consequences to human health," he added.