Update: SFTSV and Hantavirus are endemic in Shandong and Henan provinces in recent years and the article has been updated to reflect this.
Recently, the discovery of “Langya virus” in Shandong and Henan provinces of China has quickly attracted the attention of medical experts around the world. The virus is a type of zoonotic henipavirus and 35 people have been identified to be infected with this Langya virus since 2019 in these two provinces in China.
Notably, this virus is related to the Mojiang virus—found in the infamous Mojian Caves where the bat-borne coronavirus most similar to the SARS-CoV-2 was discovered.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has become very interested in henipaviruses as of late, taking great pains to obtain and reconstruct the Nipah virus, which is not even a threat in China.
What does this all mean, and what is going on inside of China’s military labs?
What Is the ‘Langya Virus’? What Are Its Symptoms?
Langya virus is part of the henipavirus family. Other henipaviruses include the Nipah virus, which has received extensive attention and is known for its high mortality rate, and the Hendra virus and Mojiang virus.
Henipavirus is a genus of negative-stranded RNA viruses with a lipid membrane on their surface. This membrane is easily damaged in a dry environment, so henipaviruses are not primarily transmitted through the respiratory tract, but through direct contact with infected people or animals or contact with their feces.
According to an article published on August 4, 2022 in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the Langya virus has caused at least 35 infections in Henan and Shandong, China, and the report did not mention any related death case. Among all the patients, 26 people were infected with the Langya virus only, and nine others were infected with other pathogens at the same time.
All 26 patients with the Langya virus infection have experienced fever. Their probability of suffering from anorexia, coughing, weakness, muscle pain and leukopenia are as large as 50 percent. In addition, liver function impairment, thrombocytopenia, and headaches are also common symptoms of the Langya viral infection.
This report also mentioned that live Lanya virus was isolated from a patient’s sample and full genome sequence was characterized. The phylogenetic analysis based on the L gene homology indicated that the Langya virus was the closest to Mojiang virus, but not Nipah or Hendra virus, the two more commonly known henipaviruses.
Mojiang Virus: Henipavirus From a Mysterious Mine in Yunnan, China
The Mojiang virus was found in an infamous abandoned mine in Mojiang County, Yunnan province, China.
This mine in Yunnan first attracted attention in 2012, when six miners working inside it contracted severe pneumonia of unknown origin, and three of them died.
Furthermore, researchers discovered the Mojiang virus from rats in the mine.
In 2013, virologist Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology discovered the coronavirus RaTG13 from bats in the Mojiang mine–the closest known relative to the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, with a 96 percent similarity between the two, and the Mojiang mine gained quite a bit of fame as a result.
This mine resembles a “cave of viruses,” harboring these two dangerous viruses in different hosts: coronaviruses in bats, and Mojiang virus in rodents. There are still many questions remain unanswered about this mysterious cave: what happened to the other three miners who had unknown pneumonia but did not die? Did they have any other coinfections with other viruses? After Mojiang virus was identified, did those miners’ samples get retested for any potential zoonotic infection from Mojiang virus? What is unique in this cave that makes it like a hub of emerging pathogens?
However, for scientists and journalists, the mine in Yunnan has become a “black hole of no information.” Due to so-called political sensitivity, the Chinese communist regime has prevented any scientist or journalist from going there to investigate. For instance, a group of reporters from the Associated Press were followed by several plainclothes police vehicles while trying to enter the mine for investigation, and they were blocked from entering it. Another group of researchers who managed to take samples from the mine had them all confiscated.
In addition to the discovery of the coronavirus and Mojiang virus, the Chinese military and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) seem to be very interested in another henipavirus–the Nipah virus. Is WIV working on Nipah virus as a biological weapon candidate?
Recently, a renowned scientist pointed out that WIV might still be conducting genetic research on the Nipah virus.
Dr. Steven Quay, CEO of Atossa Therapeutics, Inc. (a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company), is a highly experienced physician and scientist who has published more than 300 articles and holds over 80 patents. Dr. Quay is particularly concerned about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and has published articles suggesting that all indirect evidence so far suggests that this new coronavirus is very likely to have come from a laboratory.
On August 3, 2022, Dr. Quay testified before the U.S. Senate that his analysis of the original genetic sequencing raw data published by the WIV for the SARS-CoV-2 virus contained contaminated sequences. If the laboratory’s genetic sequencing equipment was not cleaned sufficiently between sequencing runs, trace amounts of its components would be left on the equipment from previous runs, and the next sample might then become contaminated by the previous sample.
Dr. Quay had discovered that the original raw data of the SARS-CoV-2 virus study contained part of the genome sequences of the Nipah virus, and somegene sequences were relatively complete. In addition, it also contains part of the vector sequences that are used for synthetic biology. Therefore, Dr. Quay suspected that WIV might be working on the restructuring or engineering of an infectious clone of Nipah virus strain, which is a highly lethal and very dangerous virus.
This was not just a speculation as WIV’s strong interest in Nipah virus was found in another very unusual incident:
In 2019, a very accomplished microbial virologist at the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, secretly sent samples of the Ebola virus and Nipah virus to WIV after stealing them from her workplace. After her crime was exposed, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) conducted an investigation, and Dr. Qiu was fired from her job.
The Nipah virus, which was obtained at great cost by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, is a very dangerous virus that has caused multiple outbreaks mainly in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and it can kill up to 90 percent of the infected population in certain outbreaks.
Bats are very active in tropical and subtropical regions, and the main natural host of the Nipah virus are fruit bats. Bats can also transmit the virus to other large animals, such as horses and pigs.
China does not currently face the threat of the Nipah virus, and there is no urgent need to develop a vaccine for it. So why is WIV so interested in the Nipah virus? This is an alarming question.
The CDC has placed the Nipah virus on the list of “Bioterrorism Agents” and classified it as a Category C pathogen—a virus with the potential to be engineered into a biological weapon.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the website of WIV even listed a “military management division.” This suggested that WIV is not just merely a collaborator for the People’s Liberation Army. Military operation was part of the whole WIV operation even before Xi Jinping launched nation-wide Military-Civil fusion transformation for many institutes.
Although China joined the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1984, it is suspected that it might not have stopped its research on biological and chemical weapons.
A Military Field-Testing of Dangerous Pathogens?
Indeed, the discovery of the Langya virus also showed elements of military involvement.
The key authors to that report are Drs. Li-Qun Fang and Wei Liu, whose institutional affiliation was shown to be “Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology (BIME)”. However, BIME is actually the same entity as “Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, under People’s Liberation Army.” In addition, in the supplementary materials of this report, it was clearly indicated that the PLA’s 990 Military Hospital in Henan province was involved in this study. And the report indicated that 34 out of the 35 patients were local farmers. Why were the farmers’ samples analyzed in a military hospital as part of a sentinel surveillance program?
Moreover, although the report indicated that those 35 patients infected with Langya virus were identified during “sentinel febrile illness surveillance.” It is very unusual to report the discovery and isolation of a live henipavirus with significant delay of two years. The discovery of henipavirus should be very alarming news in the public health aspect, and should have been reported in 2019. Meanwhile, among the 35 patients, six patients were found to be co-infected with severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus (SFTSV) , and two patients were found to be co-infected with Hantavirus.
The SFTSV and Hantavirus are highly infectious viruses that could lead to severe viral hemorrhage and their outbreaks in China are relatively rare events. So, in this so-called “sentinel febrile illness surveillance”, this group of military scientists identified three dangerious pathogens at one time, and several of them were co-infected with two rare pathogens? How likely would this happen in a natural situation? And in regular sentinel febrile illness surveillance, these viruses would not be included in the regular screening under normal circumstances.
In addition, all three viruses, Langya, SFTSV, and Hantaviruses infect rodents. SFTSV is a novel phlebovirus in the Bunyaviridae family, and certain tick species have been demonstrated as a competent vector of SFTSV by experimental transmission study and field study. Langya virus and Hantavirus can infect humans if people encounter rodent droppings or feces. So, in order for the patients to be co-infected with SFTSV and Langya, the rodents need to be infected by the ticks first to get SFTSV, and also their droppings and feces need to be touched by those farmers. How “lucky” that these scientists were to find all these co-infection cases from a field case-study perspective.
Although SFTSV and Hantavirus infections have become endemic in Shandong or Henan province in recent years, it is still very unusual to see patients co-infected with these dangerous pathogens, and no patient died even though SFTSV and Hantavirus have high mortality rates. Realistically speaking, this study appears to be a targeted surveillance project to look for certain pathogens’ zoonotic infections to humans, transmitted by rodents, with screening of different species of rodents.
Would it be possible that this study was a test of these dangerous pathogens and see which one was more prone to cause human infection? With the involvement of a military hospital and scientists from PLA, would it be possible that this was a field release of multiple dangerous pathogens followed by field screening of rodents and potential human infections caused by infected rodents? We have no resources to address these questions, so let these questions serve as an alarm for national security experts, beyond being a reasonable speculation.
Such Virus Research Endangers the Health of Mankind and Needs to Be Called Off
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a growing concern about the risks associated with research into viruses.
As aforementioned, the scientists and journalists attempting to enter the Mojiang mine to investigate are now being blocked on the grounds of “political sensitivity.” However, if this series of events directly endangers the health of all humans, then this should not be considered a mere political issue.
At this stage, various viruses, bacteria, and other public health crises are already posing a great threat to people. On this basis, some organizations are still conducting daring research, such as modifying human genes and/or viral genes, and using various synthetic biology means to assemble new viruses and bacteria.
These dangerous studies have been glorified as a way to better understand pathogens and develop vaccines and drugs.
However, during the process, people may have created more dangerous pathogens that further threaten the health of the human race. An outbreak of a dangerous pathogen, whether from natural zoonotic infection, or laboratory leak incident, or a release of biological weapon, can become a major global disaster, as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated.
Therefore, we need to be more stringent in monitoring, controlling, or prohibiting such dangerous research.
In the process of promoting the development of biotechnology, we must first guard the most basic medical ethics and the ethics of researchers.
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