BEIJING - A new virus, which can be transmitted to humans from animals, has infected 35 people in Shandong and Henan provinces, according to a study by scientists from China, Singapore and Australia published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
So far, there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
The Henipavirus (also called Langya henipavirus or LayV) was first detected in late 2018 but was formally identified by scientists only last week, The Guardian reported.
It was discovered thanks to an early detection system for feverish people with a recent history of exposure to animals, Bloomberg reported.
The virus was found after throat swabs were taken from the patients who were mostly farmers.
The virus is entirely novel, meaning it has not infected humans before.
But two viruses from the same family had been identified previously - the Hendra virus and Nipah virus. Both can cause severe and sometimes fatal illnesses. There are no vaccines or treatments, The Sun reported.
The study said 26 out of 35 cases of Langya henipavirus infection in Shandong and Henan provinces have developed clinical symptoms such as fever, irritability, cough, anorexia, myalgia, nausea, headache and vomiting, The Global Times reported.
So far, the cases have not been fatal or very serious, so there is no need for panic, said Professor Wang Linfa from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore who was involved in the study.
He added that it is still a cause for alert as many viruses that exist in nature have unpredictable results when they infect humans.
Experts are still trying to work out if it can spread from person to person, the Daily Mail reported.
The study said: "There was no close contact or common exposure history among the patients, which suggests that the infection in the human population may be sporadic.
"Contact tracing of nine patients with 15 close-contact family members revealed no close-contact LayV transmission.
"But our sample size was too small to determine the status of human-to-human transmission for LayV."
They found the virus in 71 of 262 shrews - a small mole-like mammal - surveyed in the two Chinese provinces where the outbreak started, the Daily Mail reported.
Alongside shrews, the virus was also spotted in dogs (5 per cent) and goats (2 per cent).
The spread of germs from animals to humans, called zoonosis, is common, accounting for more than six of out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of the time they cause limited disease, dying out without having a major impact, Bloomberg reported.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, however, more tracking systems now are in place and are picking up novel pathogens.