New virus infections in China: vigilance without alarmism

The detection of 35 cases of people infected by the "Langya" henipavirus has raised alarm bells, but is there real reason to worry about these new infections in China?

These contagions in China for a new one virus of animal origin it is making headlines and generating anxiety among a population that has not yet fully recovered from the covid-19 pandemic, which also originated in the Asian country.

However, the differences are stark compared to the nightmare that followed the first reported infection in the Chinese province of Wuhan on December 31, 2019.

35 infections in China since 2018

Contagions in China caused by henipavirus they are limited to 35 people as of 2018, and none of the cases appear to be related. For this reason, and because the virus does not seem to spread easily between people and is not fatal, experts call for relative calm.

Raúl Rivas, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Salamanca believes that even though it is a limited number of cases detected in two years, "taking into account the existing geographic and social context, which opens up the possibility that the real cases many more, you have to watch it."

For his part, the journalist Pablo Linde, journalist from the Country specialized in Health, has shared a thread on Twitter in which he tries to mitigate the concern with which this news has been received. "It is another zoonotic virus, but not one that is being transmitted and growing now, as far as we know. More pandemics of zoonotic origin will come. But not every virus discovered will necessarily cause one. Obviously, scientists must be attentive to everyone", he says.

Edward Holmesevolutionary virologist of the University of Sydney, in Australia, declares to Nature that "there is no particular need to worry, but continuous vigilance is critical".

without evidence of contagion between people

The research team identified the "Langya" henipavirus while monitoring patients at three hospitals in the eastern Chinese provinces of Shandong and Henan between April 2018 and August 2021.

The virus was described in New England Journal of Medicine on August 4, and the research authors found no strong evidence that these new infections in China are spreading between people: there were no cases in the same family, in a short period of time or in geographical proximity.

However, despite the relief of the information available so far, there is no need to let your guard down as large outbreaks of infectious diseases can be triggered by a small number of cases that fly under the radar of the detection systems of possible epidemics.

global surveillance system

For this, experts claim a global surveillance system to detect virus contagions that allows these results to be communicated to avoid further pandemics, such as the one caused by Covid-19. In addition, the zoonotic origin – transmission by animals – of many of these new threats requires it early detection of potential new pathogenic viruses in small mammals which provide clues "to establish preventive and mitigation strategies against new emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases", recalls Raúl Rivas.

We remember that the RNA of the henipavirus was predominantly detected in shrewswhich suggests that this animal may be its natural reservoir, although still it remains to be determined how the virus spreads in shrews and how people become infected.

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