Scientists discovered a new virus in eastern China that may be able to jump from animals to humans. But health experts say it isn't cause for panic.
Researchers identified the new pathogen they're calling the Langya virus in 35 people from April 2018 to August 2021, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. Most of the infected patients were farmers.
Out of the 26 people not co-infected with another pathogen, the most common symptoms were fever, fatigue, cough, anorexia, myalgia, nausea, headache and vomiting.
Contact tracing of nine patients with 15 family members did not find any human-to-human transmission.
“In order to really be something we should be worried about … it’s got to be able to transmit between people,” said Emily Gurley, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There’s no evidence from this report that person-to-person transmission is happening.”
Scientists also found the virus in some domestic goats and dogs, but they hypothesized it may have originated in wild shrews where it was predominately detected.
Through genetic sequencing, researchers determined the virus is a part of the henipavirus family, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says includes five other viruses: Hendra virus, Nipah virus, Cedar virus, Ghanaian bat virus and Mojiang virus.
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The Hendra and Nipah viruses are highly virulent and have been associated with high fatality rates in past outbreaks, said Dr. Paul Duprex, a virologist and director of the center for vaccine research at the University of Pittsburgh. The report suggests the new Langya virus may cause milder disease.
The Cedar, Ghanaian and Mojiang viruses have not definitively made the jump to humans. Gurley said the Langya virus most genetically resembles the Moijang virus.
Although the report may inform scientists, Duprex said, people “shouldn’t go into panic mode every time there’s a new virus that’s discovered.”
“We have primate brains, for the most part, and there are only a few things we can really care about in life,” Gurley said. “I don’t think this should make the list.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Langya henipavirus: New virus infects dozens in China. What to know.