Just when you think you’ve mastered the Jeopardy! category of “Things that Ticks Can Carry,” along comes something else. And, spoiler alert, this new thing is not a briefcase.
A May 30 publication in the New England Journal of Medicine detailed how a team led by Quan Liu, Ph.D. from Foshan University in China found what they are now calling the Alongshan virus (ALSV). The story began in April 2017 when a 42-year-old female farmer from the town of Alongshan in Inner Mongolia, China, went to the local hospital complaining of a fever, a continuing moderate headache, fatigue, cough, and throat discomfort. She also had enlarged and painful lymph nodes in her right neck. Although she had a history of tick bites and her symptoms resembled those caused by the tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV), tests for this virus came back negative. They eventually found a virus with a genetic sequence not seen before and concluded that this is a newly discovered virus.
Testing of the blood of other people in the region found 86 others who had been infected by this same type of virus and had histories of tick bites. According to the publication:
The most common symptoms in the patients assessed in this study were headache (69 patients) and fever (67 patients). Other clinical findings included fatigue (51 patients), depression (32 patients), coma (30 patients), poor appetite (27 patients), nausea (26 patients), myalgia or arthralgia (23 patients), and rash or petechiae (22 patients).
OK. Most of these symptoms may not have been serious problems. Arthraligias are a fancy way of saying joint pains. Mylagias are muscle aches. Petechiae are the bleeding of very small blood vessels near the surface of the skin.
However, coma sounds quite a bit more serious. You don’t tend to tell your friends, “I can’t go out partying tonight because I am in a coma.” Therefore, even though symptoms tended to resolve after 6 to 8 days of treatment with an antiviral medication (ribavirin) and an antibiotic (benzylpenicillin sodium) and no permanent problems or deaths (which would qualify as a permanent problem) occurred, it remains to be seen if infection with ALSV can lead to even more serious problems. It is also not clear what effect the antiviral medication and the antibiotic may have had on the virus and the infection, if any.
The researchers decide to name this new virus after the first patient’s home town. But at this point, it is not clear how widespread the virus may be. The prime suspect for carrying the virus is the Ixodes persulcatus tick, which tends to jump among different mammals, including sheep, cattle, horses, dogs, rabbits, and humans, as well as birds occasionally. I. persulcatus is also known as the Taiga Tick, with “Taiga” pronounced a bit like how a five-year-old would say “tiger.” This tick currently hangs in the different parts of Europe, especially Eastern Europe, and central and northern Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, and Russia. However, it remains to be seen if other types of types and even mosquitoes may be able to carry ALSV.
So you can add ALSV to the growing list of disease-causing microbes that includes bacteria, viruses, and parasites that ticks can carry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains the following list of tick-borne diseases:
Unfortunately, “Things that Ticks Can Carry,” is a category that’s likely to keep growing. Scientists may have only seen the “tick of the iceberg” when it comes to the many different microbes that various tick species can carry.