Zoonotic diseases, which can jump from one species to another, are not unusual. As the world's population rises and the climate changes, people are moving into the habitats of more animals, and vice versa. People have also been epxloiting wild animals for ages, and that behavior can have serious consequences. Humans have become more likely to come into contact with microbes that sicken animals, which may be fungal, parasitic, bacterial, or viral, for some examples. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that about three of every four emerging human diseases originated in animals. Scientists have now identified a new zoonotic virus after about 35 people became ill in eastern China.
The virus that causes these illnesses is called Langya henipavirus (LayV). It has caused milder symptoms such as fatigue, coughing, and fever. Although several dozen people are infected, it does not appear that the virus spreads from person to person at this time; an analysis has suggested that people have only been sickened by infected animals. The virus has been detected in about 25 percent of shrews that were tested, and a small number of dogs and goats were also found to harbor the virus.
The findings have been reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by an international team of researchers.
Study co-author Wang Linfa of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore was quoted in the Global Times, a state media outlet of China, stating that LayV cases have not yet caused any fatalities, and they have not been particularly serious, adding that there is "no need to panic."
The study authors also noted, however, that viruses can behave in unpredictable ways. It seems likely that they and others will be watching carefully for any new developments. BBC reported that the Center for Disease Control in Taiwan is looking closely at LayV and watching for changes.
This seems to be the first henipaviruses that has made people ill. Other related henipaviruses have previously been detected in bats, rodents, and shrews.