A disease called Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS), caused by a tick-borne virus, has killed seven and infected at least 60 in China.
A large number of the cases reported were concentrated in East China’s Jiangsu and Anhui provinces. More than 37 people were diagnosed with SFTS in Jiangsu in the early months of 2020.
While the disease is transferred to humans through tick bites, Chinese virologists have warned that human-to-human transmission of the virus cannot be ruled out.
Unlike SARS-CoV-2 however, this is not the first time the SFTS virus has infected people. The recent spate of cases merely marks a re-emergence of the disease.
Severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus (SFTSV) belongs to the Bunyavirus family and is transmitted to humans through tick bites.
The virus was first identified by a team of researchers in China over a decade ago. The first few cases were reported in rural areas of Hubei and Henan provinces in 2009.
The team of researchers identified the virus by examining blood samples obtained from a cluster of people exhibiting similar symptoms. The current case fatality rate rests between approximately 16 and 30 percent.
Due to the rate at which it spreads and its high fatality rate, SFTS has been listed among the top 10 priority diseases blueprint by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Virologists believe an Asian tick called Haemaphysalis longicornis is the primary vector, or carrier, of the virus. The disease is known to spread between March and November. Researchers have found that the total number of infections generally peaks between April and July.
Farmers, hunters and pet owners are particularly vulnerable to the disease as they regularly come in contact with animals that may carry the Haemaphysalis longicornis tick.
Scientists have found that the virus is often transmitted to humans from animals like goats, cattle, deer, and sheep.
Patients suffering from the disease usually experience a whole range of symptoms, including, fever, fatigue, chill, headache, lymphadenopathy, anorexia, nausea, myalgia, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gingival hemorrhage, conjunctival congestion, and so on.
Some of the early warning signs of the disease include severe fever, thrombocytopenia or low platelet count, and leukocytopenia, which is low white blood cell count.
The risk factors observed in more serious cases include multi-organ failure, hemorrhagic manifestation and the appearance of central nervous system (CNS) symptoms.
While a vaccine to treat the disease is yet to be successfully developed, the antiviral drug Ribavirin is known to be effective in treating the illness.