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New virus ‘on the rage’ in China? Outbreak reported, but tick-borne viral disease not new

“As the world struggles with Covid-19, a new infectious disease seem to be spreading in China,” claims a message circulating on Facebook in several African countries since 9 August 2020.

“More than 37 people in East China’s Jiangsu Province contracted the SFTS Virus in the first half of the year; 23 more people were found to have been infected in East China’s Anhui province,” it says.

One version has been viewed more than 200,000 times in less than a week. Another adds: “What is China up to this time?”

The claim has also appeared in website articles with headlines such as “Another new virus on the rage in China” and “Panic as new deadly virus surfaces in China”.

Ticks are tiny animals in the arachnid family, which includes spiders. They bite and feed off the blood of warm-blooded animals such as people. Their bites can cause a number of diseases including Lyme disease and Colorado tick fever

The new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Is STFS another new disease-causing virus to emerge in China?

New outbreak – but not new disease

SFTS is severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome, a disease caused by a virus carried by ticks. 

On 11 July Global Times, a state-owned Chinese newspaper, reported that there had been an outbreak of STFS in China’s eastern Anhui province since April. By July, Chinese authorities confirmed the disease had hospitalised 23 people and killed at least five. 

As of 7 August, 60 people had reportedly been infected and at least seven had died. 

But STFS is not new.

The disease first emerged in China in 2009. SFTS is mostly spread through bites from Haemaphysalis longicornis, Asian longhorn ticks, which may carry the novel bunyavirus. Bunyaviruses are a family of viruses also carried by insects and rodents.

SFTS can also be spread through close contact with an infected person. 

The symptoms of SFTS include acute high fever, low levels of platelets and white blood cells, and the failure of multiple organs. Its death rate ranges between 12% and 30%.

Mainly found in mountainous regions

Although the disease can be spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, most cases are spread in tick bites. Virus-carrying ticks are mainly found in mountainous regions where they bite people working in fields. Infections increase in summer, the ticks’ breeding season. 

The disease also has been found in countries neighbouring China, including Japan and South Korea. 

There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for the disease.

There has been an outbreak of another viral disease in China. But neither the virus nor the disease are new. The SFTS virus was first detected in 2009. –  Naledi Mashishi


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