A few days ago, a scientific team published the detection of 35 infections in humans of a new virus of animal origin in two Chinese provinces and spread over time. It belongs to the Henipavirus genus, but very little is known about it. Is it transmitted between people? Where does it come from? Is there cause for alarm?
A man throws garbage through an opening in a confined area in Shanghai, China, due to an outbreak of coronavirus. EFE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI
The Professor of Microbiology at the University of Salamanca Raúl Rivas González answer these and other questions. In his opinion, this new virus from China is a pathogen to watch out for because of its history – there are other Henipaviruses with diverse clinical manifestations for which there is more data -: “we should not raise an alarm, but we do have to be forewarned”.
“There are reasons to remain vigilant,” this researcher summarizes to Efe, arguing that there are still too many unanswered questions about this virus. This is what is known for now.
This is how we met this new virus from China
On August 4, the scientific journal The New England Journal of Medicine published a study led by scientists from various Chinese institutions that described the infection of at least 35 people by a new type of Henipavirus. The media in China and the rest of the world echoed it a few days later.
“The sample -35 patients- is very small, so we must be cautious with the conclusions. However, it is likely that there have been and are today more infected, “says Rivas.
The infections occurred in two provinces, Henan and Shandong, and scientists say Langya (LayV)as the virus has been called, has infected 35 people since 2018. None of the cases have been described as serious and none appear to be related, so human-to-human spread seems ruled out today.
The research team identified him while conducting surveillance of patients who were in three hospitals between April 2018 and August 2021; those who presented fever were recruited for the study, collects the journal Nature in its news section.
What are Henipaviruses?
It is a genus of RNA viruses already known.
Henipaviruses belong to the Paramyxoviridae family of viruses, which includes measles, mumps, and many respiratory viruses that infect people.
The first Henipaviruses to be discovered are Hendra (1994, in Australia) and Nipah (1999, in Malaysia).
These, Rivas explains, have high mortality rates in humans, “that’s why every time a new one is discovered, we have to be vigilant, because of these antecedents.”
In Hendra, most infections come from contact with horses, which act as the final host of the virus, which in turn has been infected by grass or fruit contaminated by bats.
In Nipah, which is transmitted to humans mainly from bats and pigs -infected by bats- and for which cases of infection among humans have been described, the fatality rate has reached 75% in some outbreaks.
Where are you from?
To determine the possible animal origin, the researchers analyzed goats, dogs, pigs and cows, and 25 species of small wild animals. The RNA of the virus was detected, reports the Spanish researcher, predominantly in shrews (27%).
This suggests that these insectivorous mammals may be the natural reservoir, unlike the rest of Henipavirus.
“Now we know that there is a new protagonist on the game board and we can look for him”, thanks to the fact that his genome has been sequenced and published.
Transmission and symptoms of the new China virus
The professor at the University of Salamanca details that Henipaviruses, “and it is possible that this new one as well”, are transmitted mainly by contaminated fluids -saliva, blood, urine and also feces-.
The symptoms caused by LayV are varied and include fever, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, headache, cough or impaired liver and kidney function.
There are no specific treatments against this type of virus of zoonotic origin. For Hendra there is a vaccine for horses and against Nipah a couple of human vaccines are being developed, in addition to a treatment with monoclonal antibodies, all of this is still in the experimental phase.
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