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New virus in China kills 7, infects 60: All about tick-borne pathogen

Ticks are known to carry 83 viruses. The disease caused by the tick-borne virus is called Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS) and the virus has been identified as novel bunyavirus.

The new infection, tick-borne virus, has killed seven people in China (AP picture for representation)

While the world continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus with India emerging the biggest hotspot, a new virus — tick-borne virus — has marked its presence in China. Coronavirus outbreak had originated in China last year.

The new viral infection has killed seven people in China, infecting more than 60 others in East China’s Jiangsu and Anhui provinces. It has set off alarm bells among the health officials in the country and across the world.

The disease is infectious and caused by a tick-borne virus (TBV).

Ticks are known to carry 83 viruses. The disease caused by the tick-borne virus is called Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS) and the virus has been identified as the novel bunyavirus.

According to a report published in the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC), SFTS is a “new epidemic disease of natural origin”.

In initial reports, the deaths caused by SFTS were attributed to dengue, another viral disease that spreads through a mosquito bite.

However, the local health commission of Lu’an later confirmed that the deaths happened due to Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome, caused by a tick-borne virus — novel bunyavirus.

While the virus is transferred to humans through tick bites, the health officials in China have warned of possible human-to-human transmissions.


Ticks are blood-sucking bugs, living by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. They are mostly found in bushes, grass and shrubs. The eight-legged bugs are arachnids — related to spiders.

According to the WHO, ticks are vectors of a large number of diseases including relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever and Lyme disease.

Ticks are most active during summers.

Fun fact: Adult ticks live for several years. In the absence of a blood-meal, which ticks need in order to proceed to the next stage of the life cycle, ticks can survive several years of starvation.


Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS) is a disease whose first case was reported in 2009 in Central China’s Henan and East China’s Anhui provinces.

A study published in Nature last year said that between 2011 and 2016, there were a total of 5,360 laboratory-confirmed SFTS cases in China.

The study also said that most SFTS cases occurred in individuals aged between 40 years and 80 years (91.57 per cent). The number of affected counties from 2011 to 2016 increased sharply from 98 to 167.

The tick-borne virus killed at least 30 per cent patients it affected.

The novel bunyavirus has a fatality rate of 1 to 5 per cent, more among the older people.

In 2018, the tick-borne virus was considered for inclusion in the WHO list of priority diseases.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US, the primary symptoms of the tick-borne virus are:

1. fever/chills
2. aches and pains
3. rashes

“The early symptoms are fatigue and fever; sometimes there will be a rash,” an expert was quoted as saying by The Global Times.

(1) FEVER/CHILLS: People infected with the tick-borne virus can experience fever and chills at the time of onset of the disease.

(2) ACHES AND PAINS: CDC says the symptoms include headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.

(3) RASHES: Tick-borne virus which causes SFTS can result in distinctive rashes, depending on the disease.

While patients with mild symptoms may heal themselves, severe cases often suffer from multi-organ failure.


Ticks can also cause paralysis. It is, however, a rare disease believed to be caused by a toxin in tick saliva. Within 24 hours of removing the tick, the paralysis typically subsides, according to the CDC.


No vaccine is available for prevention against the tick-borne Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome.

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