Is Langya Henipavirus, LayV, A New Virus Threat? 35 People In China Infected

The Langya henipavirus (LayV) appears to have jumped from other animals to humans for the first … [+] time. And shrews may be the natural reservoir for this novel virus. (Photo: Getty)

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A novel virus appears to have jumped from other animals to humans for the first time. And this virus has some really nasty relatives. No, this isn’t 2020 too again. This is a different virus from the Covid-19 coronavirus. A Letter to the Editor just published in the New England Journal of Medicine described how the Langya henipavirus (LayV) has left at least 35 people in the Shandong and Henan provinces of China infected and sick with fevers. Before the you start hoarding toilet paper again, though, keep in mind that so far there have been two key differences between the LayV and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Nevertheless, the LayV is part of the same family as the deadly Hendra and the Nipah viruses, which is kind of like being part of the Corleone family from the “Godfather” movies. So, it will be important to keep a close eye on what happens next.

Any time any virus makes a new jump from other animals to humans to cause illness, it should raise at least some concerns. After all, introducing your immune system to a novel virus can be like having someone go on a date for the first time ever. Your “like a virgin” immune system can either completely miss any warning signs or begin firing off in random directions, which in turn can cause damage to your body ala what’s happened with the SARS-CoV-2 and its nasty relative SARS.

One current key difference between the LayV and the SARS-CoV-2 though is that LayV has not yet caused any human deaths. At least, that’s according to the letter authored by a team from the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, the Qingdao Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Duke–National University of Singapore Medical School, and other institutions. Of the 26 cases where the LayV was the only pathogen found, 100% had a fever, 54% had fatigue, 50% cough, 50% loss of appetite, 46% had muscle aches, 38% nausea, 35% headaches, and 35% vomiting. This doesn’t sound like the LayV will necessarily get you on your knees, so to speak. However, a significant proportion of these patients have had some abnormalities on their blood tests with 54% having low white blood cell counts, 35% having low platelet counts, 35% showing evidence of abnormal liver function, and 8% showing evidence of abnormal kidney function. So time will tell whether the LayV can cause life-threatening illness.

A second key difference from the SARS-CoV-2 is that there hasn’t been any clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the LayV to date. That’s based on contact tracing that was conducted for nine of the patients who had close contact with 15 different family members but didn’t seem to pass the virus to any of them. However, this sample size was still too small to say for sure whether the LayV can be passed from one human to another. Blood tests did reveal antibodies to the LayV in three of the 168 goats and four of the 79 dogs tested. So the virus seems to have made the goat and dog rounds to some degree. Testing of 25 wild small animal species revealed a shrew dat finding: 71 of the 262 shrews tested had evidence of LayV RNA. So it may be shrew that they are the natural reservoir of for the virus. This is another reason why “Dancing with the Shrews” may not be a great TV show concept. Regardless, shrew-to-human transmission is very unlikely to cause a large epidemic among humans because that would take a bleep load of shrews and shrew human Meetups. No the big “uh oh” would be if there were any evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission and the virus proved that it could kill humans.

Could the LayV end up being a killer in a bad way? Well, again the concern is that the letter said that the LayV is part of the same henipavirus genus in the family Paramyxoviridae as the Hendra virus and the Nipah virus belongs. It’s most similar to the Mojiang henipavirus, which was discovered in southern China, so it’s not closest in the family to the Hendra and Nipah viruses.

And Benhur Lee, MD, a Professor of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, did question whether the LayV is technically a henipavirus in the following tweet thread:

The @VirusWhisperer more than whispered that the LayV found from throat swabs of the patients was “almost identical” to the LayV found in shrews:

However, he also pointed out that the genomic organization of this LayV is different from that of “bona fide” henipaviruses:

Nevertheless, being related in any way to the Nipah virus should give some pause. After all, the Nipah Virus has had an estimated case-fatality rate of 40% to 75%, meaning that 40% to 75% of humans infected with the virus have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That obviously doesn’t make the Nipah Virus cute and cuddly. There has been some human-to-human transmission of the Nipah virus. However, typically you can catch the the Nipah virus from getting a bit too comfy with infected bats or pigs. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural host of the Nipah virus and can transmit the virus through either direct contact or their droppings. So if you are thinking of consuming some fruit bat droppings, don’t.

The LayV is of the same genus as the Nipah Virus. Nipah Virus Disease has had an estimated … [+] case-fatality rate of 40% to 75% (Photo by C. K Thanseer/DeFodi images via Getty Images)

DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the case-fatality rate for human Hendra virus (HeV) infection is estimated to be around 57%, as listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s not good either. From where can you catch the Hendra virus? Well, a horse, of course. But such infections have fortunately been quite rare with some outbreaks among horses having been reported and only seven reported human cases from 1994 through 2013. Flying foxes, the bats of the genus Pteropus and not foxes piloting airplanes, are the natural reservoirs of the HeV.

This LayV situation is a reminder that viruses and other pathogens will continue to periodically jump from other animals to humans. That’s because every time a virus replicates it can make mistakes in copying itself, resulting in mutations. Some of those mutations could end up giving a virus the ability to infect humans. If more isn’t done to stop climate change, such jumps could occur with increasing frequency because rising temperatures and unusual weather patterns may change where other animals hang out and how they behave. And if more isn’t done to better detect, track, and contain such jumps, you never know when something “shrew” may emerge, making it 2020 too all over again. Or perhaps even worse.

Life Sciences, Forbes – Healthcare

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