Warning that new tick disease is highly infectious

A resident in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, holds a satiated tick picked from the body of his pet dog. [Deng Xiaowei / China Daily]

BEIJING – A newly discovered tick-borne disease may endanger people in close contact with carriers of the lethal virus, the Ministry of Health warned.

The warning came amid a promise to upgrade blood-testing facilities nationwide.

The emerging tick-borne disease, known as “fever-thrombocytopenia syndrome”, is caused by an offshoot of the Bunia virus.

This virus may cause victims to suffer from liver and kidney failure and can result in internal bleeding.

The body fluids of people who fall victim to the disease are highly infectious.

Patients should be treated in isolation wards, according to a guideline on the ministry’s website on Friday.

Unless adequate precautions are taken, people in close contact with carriers need to be put under a 14-day quarantine regime. If there are any signs of fever a doctor or the health authorities should be immediately informed and given as much detailed information as possible.

More than 280 cases of the tick-borne disease have been reported in central and eastern provinces, including Henan, Hubei, Shandong, Anhui and Jiangsu, according to statistics from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The disease has already claimed the lives of more than 10 people. Ninety percent of the victims of the disease were more than 40 years old and farmers accounted for 90 percent of these cases, the CDC said.

The CDC said that most of the victims suffered nausea, fatigue and a lack of appetite. The disease reduces white blood cell and platelet counts, which can lead to organ failure and death.

However, Pang Xinghuo, deputy head of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told China Daily on Sunday that residents in the capital do not need to worry.

“So far, the center has not received any reports of tick infections from hospitals in the city. The center has a mechanism to closely monitor cases such as this,” she said.

Pang suggested that, to be on the safe side, it would be better to wear long-sleeved clothes when lying or walking in the grass and to take showers after returning home.

“I don’t really worry about infections, but maybe I need to pay special attention when I walk my dog at weekends in the parks,” Zhang Yue, a 24-year-old Beijing resident said.

The tick warning came as the Ministry of Health said it will introduce RNA (ribonucleic acid) testing at provincial blood centers across the mainland within the year.

“The RNA testing would largely shorten the ‘window period’, and better help recipients from blood-borne infections,” said Wang Yu, head of the ministry’s department of medical administration.

Blood tests cannot currently detect antibodies of HIV during the first 22 days, hepatitis B during the first 50 or C during the first 72 days. The time frame is often referred to as the “window period” and is vitally important in managing or treating the diseases.

In a step-by-step approach, the new testing method is expected to be scaled up nationwide in five years, he said.

Shan Juan contributed to this story.

China Daily

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