May 29, 2019
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New tick-borne virus discovered in China

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Quan Liu, PhD
Quan Liu

Researchers in northeastern China discovered a new segmented RNA virus associated with febrile illness in dozens of patients, and they suspect that the virus is transmitted by ticks, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

They named the previously unknown pathogen the Alongshan virus (ALSV).

“ALSV infection can cause clinical disease, and therefore, it should be differentiated from other tick-borne diseases, such as severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome, tick-borne encephalitis, anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis and babesiosis,” Quan Liu, PhD, from Foshan University in Guangdong Province and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Jilin Province, told Infectious Disease News.

According to the study, routine tick-borne disease surveillance identified a 42-year-old female farmer who presented to a hospital in Inner Mongolia with symptoms similar to those of infectious tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). Liu and colleagues collected a blood sample from the patient, but did not find TBEV RNA or antibodies against the virus.

Photo of a Taiga tick 
Researchers suspect that the Alongshan virus is transmitted by the taiga tick (Ixodes persulcatus).
Source: Adobe Stock

Because of the similarity of the patient’s symptoms to those caused by a tick-borne pathogen, the hospital initiated a heightened surveillance program to identify patients with a history of tick bites or bite-related symptoms. Liu and colleagues took serum specimens from patients and 100 healthy people living in the area, and collected local ticks and mosquitos for testing, according to the study.

Reverse transcription-PCR testing confirmed ALSV in 86 patients from Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang Province who presented with fever, headache and a history of tick bites, the researchers found. Among them, 73% were men, 98% were farmers or forestry workers and 95% had “a clear history” of prior tick bites before disease onset, Liu and colleagues reported. According to the study, seroconversion occurred in all 19 patients with specimens available from the acute and convalescent phases of their illness.

Liu and colleagues reported that Ixodes persulcatus ticks — taiga ticks — collected from areas where patients were bitten also tested positive for ALSV RNA.

“We suspect that ALSV is transmitted by the tick I. persulcatus,” Liu and colleagues wrote. “Common hosts of I. persulcatus include most mammals (eg, sheep, cattle, horses, dogs, rabbits, humans) and occasionally some birds. I. persulcatus is widely distributed in Asia and eastern Europe, including China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, and Russia.”

The researchers said they cannot exclude mosquitoes as a possible vector of the virus, and that more studies are needed to determine the geographic distribution of ALSV.

Thus far, Liu and colleagues said they have found no epidemiologic evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus. – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.