New Delhi: While the whole world is still reeling from the shock of the pandemic caused by a previously unknown virus, SASR-CoV-2 aka COVID-19, Chinese officials have now reported cases of yet another infectious disease.
The disease is caused by the SFTS virus and has already affected around 37 people in East China’s Jiangsu Province and 23 more in Anhui province. According to official reports, seven people have lost their lives to this virus so far. Luckily, this virus is not new and was first detected in 2009.
SFTS stands for Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome virus. This is a phlebovirus and belongs to the Bunyaviridae family. The virus is a tick-borne virus and can spread easily among humans from the blood and mucous of the infected person. Scientists found four species of ticks in a study conducted in 2015. H longicornis, R microplus, H campanulata, and D sinicus in dogs, cats, sheep, and cattle acted as a reservoir for SFTS virus.
Sudden high fever, chills, loss of appetite, bleeding of gums, gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, muscular pain, neurological abnormalities such as headache, confusion, and seizure, thrombocytopenia (extremely low levels of platelets), leukocytopenia (low levels of white blood cells), and coagulopathy (where the blood loses its ability to form a clot and stop bleeding), etc. are some of the symptoms of the SFTS virus.
From a clinical perspective, the SFTS virus presents itself in four different stages
- Stage one – Incubation: After the bite of a tick, the virus takes 5 to 14 days for incubation and the symptoms appear only after the end of the incubation period.
- Stage two – Fever: The person will show flu-like symptoms after the incubation. This includes fever, headache, muscular pain, and diarrhea which lasts for five to 11 days.
Stage three – Multiple organ failure: Many patients suffering from SFTS will suffer from multiple organ failure due to severe leukocytopenia and thrombocytopenia and disseminated intravascular coagulation (excessive clotting of blood). This will ultimately lead to the death of the patient.
Stage four – Convalescence: People who get past the multiple organ failure stages gets healthy.
As for treatment, Ribavirin an antiviral drug has been effective against various bunyavirus infections. Studies have also shown that the intravenous delivery of Ribavirin can help in treating the SFTS virus to a certain extent.
The mortality rate of the virus has been reported to be 6% and around 30% in people who are immunocompromised as stated by virologists from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information. They added that the same virus which was found in Japan and South Korea in 2015 caused a mortality rate of more than 30% in both the countries.
Although various studies have been done on the virus with respect to its mode of infection and ways of transmission, no vaccine has been developed so far. Additionally, the SFTS virus is known to severely affect people above 50 years of age and those with a weak immune system.