Langya henipavirus : pourquoi le nouveau virus détecté en Chine n’a rien d’alarmant

Langya henipavirus : pourquoi le nouveau virus détecté en Chine n’a rien d’alarmant

After Covid, already a new pandemic? Several articles published on Tuesday report that a new virus has been identified in China that has sickened 35 people. But what some of the media that talk about this finding do not say is that these 35 patients were treated from April 2018 to August 2021. So it is not an ongoing epidemic in recent weeks.

It all starts with a study conducted by researchers from universities or institutes in China, Singapore and Australia, published on August 4 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). They were looking for possible zoonoses, that is, diseases transmitted from animals to humans. Their survey was carried out in three Chinese hospitals, from April 2018 to August 2021, among patients suffering from acute fever (≥38°C) and who had been exposed to animals in the month before the onset of symptoms.

A new virus of the henipavirus genus of the Paramyxoviridae family, named Langya henipavirus (LayV), has been identified. “This family is known and includes, in particular, the Nipah and Hendra viruses of bats, which are closely monitored in humans because they are responsible for serious and life-threatening diseases,” describes virologist Yannick Simonin. The Nipah virus is known to be transmissible between humans and its fatality rate is 40 to 75%, according to the World Health Organization.

What about Langya henipavirus? 35 infected patients, including 26 by this one alone, have been identified in three years. These 26 patients were 60 years old on average. They all had a fever, half of them were victims of tiredness, cough or muscle pain. A third had headaches. These symptoms were quite severe, but apparently none of these patients died (authors do not specify).

“Sporadic” infection in the human population?

Important point: Following an epidemiologic survey of these Langya henipavirus-infected patients, “there was no close contact or history of common exposure,” the authors write. This “suggests that infection in the human population may be sporadic.”

To find out which animal is the source of all these contaminations, the scientists went to investigate in the village of residence of the patients. Among all the small wild species studied, the shrew stands out as a potential natural reservoir of Langya henipavirus. “If there is no human-to-human transmission, it is hard to imagine a true epidemic because not everyone is exposed to shrews,” says François Balloux, director of the Institute of Genetics at University College London.

Origin in China, virus originally transmitted by an animal… The scientist says that he “understands the fears generated” by this discovery and “the fact that people see a parallel with SARS-CoV-2”. “But at this point, with 35 cases (from Langya henipavirus) identified in three years, there is not much traffic and all this has nothing to do with Covid-19”, says François Balloux. “Every year several viruses emerge in humans without causing epidemics. It has been circulating quietly for several years and we are not in an emergency situation as happened with SARS-CoV-2. There are no particular concerns at this stage, but there is a need for additional studies”, Yannick Simonin abounds.

The authors publishing in the NEJM believe that “this finding warrants further investigation to better understand the human disease” associated with these infections. Above all, this appearance is a reminder that animals can transmit potentially dangerous viruses to humans.

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