New tick-borne virus discovered in China

|  June 7, 2019

With warm weather and outdoor activities alike on the rise in recent weeks, so are incidences of ticks. Thanks to efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American public has long been aware of such tick-borne diseases as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Powassan virus disease and more, but a new virus has been discovered in China that can be transmitted by the tiny arthropods.

Several media outlets, including Medical DailyNPR and more have been covering the newly discovered Alongshan virus (ALSV). They’re taking their cue from a study published in the May 30, 2019 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine: ALSV has been confirmed as causing headaches and fevers for dozens of people in northeastern China — specifically, Inner Mongolia and the province of Heilongjiang.

“The story began in April 2017 when a 42-year-old female farmer from the town of Alongshan in Inner Mongolia, China, went to the local hospital complaining of a fever, a continuing moderate headache, fatigue, cough, and throat discomfort,” reports Forbes healthcare writer Bruce Y. Lee. “She also had enlarged and painful lymph nodes in her right neck. Although she had a history of tick bites and her symptoms resembled those caused by the tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV), tests for this virus came back negative. They eventually found a virus with a genetic sequence not seen before, and concluded that this is a newly discovered virus.”

When researchers tested ticks and mosquitoes in the region, notes LiveScience.com, they found ALSV was present in both: “After identifying the virus, the researchers began examining blood samples from other patients who visited their hospital with similar symptoms, and reported a history of tick bites. They found that, of the 374 patients who visited the hospital over the following five months and met this criteria, 86 patients were infected with the Alongshan virus. Nearly all of these patients were farmers or forestry workers, the report said.”

At press time, no deaths or permanent injuries have yet to be confirmed — although 30 patients were comatose for several days. The offending tick species is Ixodes persulcatusor the Tiaga tick; it is not currently in North America but rather, is distributed throughout Europe and Asia.

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