China has now reported an outbreak of a potentially fatal new virus called Langya, which is believed to have been transferred from shrews to humans.

The virus has infected 35 people in eastern China's Henan and Shandong provinces. However, there have been no deaths or serious illnesses so far.

According to a report in The Taipei Times, 26 of the 35 patients had flu-like symptoms, including fever, tiredness, cough, headache, and vomiting. Langya can also cause renal and liver failure.

There have been no cases of human-to-human transmission so far. Experts, however, argue that the possibility of such a spread cannot be completely discounted.

The virus belongs to the henipavirus family; nipah and hendra viruses also belong to the same group. The henipavirus is usually found in bats, rodents, and shrews and is known to cause fatal diseases. Nipah also spreads like COVID-19, but is far more dangerous and can kill up to three-quarters of infected humans.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shrews are the natural habitat of the Langya virus. Shrews are small insectivorous mammals that resemble mice.

The study said that the infected individuals had been in contact with such animals before their diagnosis. "There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients, which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic," reads the paper.

"Contact tracing of nine patients with 15 close-contact family members revealed no close-contact LayV transmission," it said, adding that the sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission.

Taiwan's Center for Disease Control (CDC) has claimed that it is monitoring the virus closely and is also setting up labs that will be able to perform genome sequencing.

According to the World Health Organization, there is currently no vaccination or treatment available for the Langya virus. The agency classifies the viral family as biosafety level-4, which implies that it has a high risk of aerosol transmission and of causing a life-threatening disease.

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China has reported 35 cases of Langya virus. Photo: Russian Direct Investment Fund / Handout