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Newly Discovered Virus Infecting People In China May Be Transmitted By Ticks

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The taiga tick could be spreading the Alongshan virus, which has sickened more than 80 farmers and forestry workers in northeastern China. What are the symptoms of the infection and how is it treated?

  ( Wikimedia Commons )

A newly discovered virus is infecting people in China and ticks are suspected of transmitting this pathogen. At least 87 patients were sickened by the virus.

Alongshan Virus

In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 29, researchers described the Alongshan virus, which was named after a town in northeastern China where it was first discovered.

A 42-year-old farmer from Alongshan who became mysteriously ill visited a hospital in the region of Inner Mongolia in April 2017. He reported having fever, nausea, and headache. He also claimed having a history of tick bites.

The doctors initially thought the patient had tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), which is endemic to the region.

The patient, however, tested negative for TBEV, prompting researchers to look for other causes. Further research showed the farmer was infected with a virus that is genetically different from other known viruses.

"We found that the index patient was infected with a previously unknown segmented RNA virus, which we designated Alongshan virus (ALSV) and which belongs to the jingmenvirus group of the family Flaviviridae," study researcher Ze-Dong Wang, from Foshan University, and colleagues wrote in their study.

Blood tests also revealed that 86 of the 374 patients with similar symptoms and a history of tick bites who visited the hospital over the next five months were infected with Alongshan virus. Nearly all of them were farmers or forestry workers.

Possibly Transmitted By Taiga Tick

Researchers suspect the virus is transmitted by the taiga tick (Ixodes persulcatus), which can be found in China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, and parts of Eastern Europe. The virus is also present in mosquitoes in the region.

The virus causes a range of symptoms in humans, which include headache, fatigue, fever, and in some cases rash, nausea, and coma.

The 86 patients who were identified to have been infected with the Alongshan virus were treated with a combination of antiviral and antibiotic drug. Their symptoms disappeared after six to eight days of treatment. All recovered without apparent long-term complications.

The researchers said that the virus has so far been found only in northeastern China, but they warned it may spread to a wider range.

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