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New contagion passed by tick-bites kills 7 in East China

Nisha Agarwal

More than 37 people have been diagnosed with SFTSV in Jiangsu and 23 others in Anhui

While the world is still grappling with COVID-19, a pandemic that reportedly emerged out of Wuhan, China, another shocking discovery of a new virus has set off alarm bells among health officials. According to the Chinese daily ‘Global Times’, a new virus likely to be caused by tick-bites has already killed at least seven people and infected more than 60 in China. The virus has been identified as Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome Virus (SFTSV) which is a Phlebovirus in the Bunyavirus family. Even though the virus is passed via tick-bites, Chinese virologists have warned about the possibility of its human-to-human transmission.

A large number of the reported cases were from East China’s Jiangsu and Anhui provinces as per the media reports. While more than 37 people have been diagnosed with SFTSV in Jiangsu in the first half of the year, 23 people were later found to be infected in Anhui.

Global Times reported a case of a woman from Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu, who suffered from the virus and showed onset of symptoms like fever and coughing. Doctors also detected a decline of leukocyte, low platelet count in her blood. She was discharged from the hospital after a month of treatment. But the virus has reportedly killed at least 7 people in East China’s Anhui and Zhejiang provinces.

However, SFTSV is not a new virus and was first discovered in 2009 in China. The first few cases were reported in the rural areas of Henan and Hubei provinces in 2009. Chinese researchers have also isolated pathogens of the virus in 2011.

Since its discovery, the number of SFTSV cases has increased significantly, with the current case fatality rate ranging from 16 to 30 percent, according to the China Information System for Disease Control and Prevention.

Virologists believe that the primary vector or carrier of the virus is an Asian tick called Haemaphysalis longicornis and that the virus is often transmitted to humans from animals like cattle, goats, sheep, horses and pigs. The Phlebovirus is transmitted by arthropods and the vectors include phlebotomine sand-flies, mosquitoes and ticks.

Some of the early symptoms of this disease include fever, fatigue, low platelet count and leukocytopenia, which is low white blood cell count. In mild cases of this disease, patients can mostly heal themselves, but in severe cases, patients often suffer from multi-organ dysfunction or failure. The vaccine for this disease is still under development but the antiviral drug Ribavirin is found to effective in the treatment of the illness to some extent.

Sheng Jifang, a doctor from the first affiliated hospital under Zhejiang University said that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be excluded and that the patients can pass the virus to others via blood or mucous. Doctors have also warned that tick bites are the major transmission route, and as long as people remain cautious, there’s no need to over panic over such virus contagion.

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