There’s a ‘Shrew Virus’ Now?

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Photo: Getty (Getty Images)

This week, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that at least 35 people in northeastern China have been infected with newly-named virus, Langya henipavirus (LayV). Given the last few years, we can all be forgiven for freaking out at the news of a viral outbreak, but thankfully, there isn’t much to worry about—this doesn’t seem to be the start of another COVID or monkeypox. At least, that’s how it looks right now.

What is LayV, the shrew virus?

First identified in 2018, LayV doesn’t seem to spread from person to person. Instead, it’s zoonotic, spreading from animal to person. Shrews in China are the likely culprit, and shrew-to-human contact isn’t as common as the person-to-person kind, resulting in a sporadic infection pattern.

The 35 patients identified, mostly farmers, were infected between 2018 and 2021. Patients infected with LayV suffer from flu-like symptoms: fever, fatigue, cough, muscle soreness, and so on. No deaths have been reported.

“Contact tracing of nine patients with 15 close-contact family members revealed no close-contact LayV transmission,” the report reads. That’s good news, although it doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility of human-to-human infection: “Our sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission for LayV.”

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Dr. Benhur Lee, a Professor of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, summed up the outbreak on Twitter thusly:

“The evidence is strong that LayV have sporadically spilled over into humans from shrews, causing pneumonia and flu-like symptoms. No deaths were reported and there is no evidence for onwards human transmission. Continued surveillance is important. Reservoirs can be found!”

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