A world first? Japanese woman dies from tick disease after being bitten by a sick cat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 11:15pm

A Japanese woman has died from a tick-borne virus after being bitten by a stray cat in what is possibly the world’s first animal-to-human transmission of the disease.

The woman in her 50s died about 10 days after being bitten by the cat last year after she took the animal to the vet.

Authorities have since confirmed that she developed SFTS, a disease transmitted by bites from a certain group of virus-carrying ticks.

Human-to-human infections of the tick virus through blood contact have been reported, but ministry officials believe the Japanese woman’s death could be the first case of a human dying from the bite of an infected animal.

“No reports on animal-to-human transmission cases have been made so far,” a health ministry official said on Tuesday.

“It’s still not confirmed the virus came from the cat, but it’s possible that it’s the [world’s] first case,” she said.

Another official said there were no signs the woman had been bitten by a tick.

SFTS, or severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome, triggers symptoms including severe fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

It is a relatively new infectious disease and was first found in northeast and central China. Since then it has been discovered in Japan and South Korea. In some places, it has a fatality rate as high as 30 per cent.

Hong Kong SPCA senior veterinary surgeon, Dr Adam West, said the city’s environmental conditions could encourage the virus to spread to Hong Kong.

As a precautionary measure, the city’s stray populations should be kept under control, he said.

“Any stray animal in any population in the world should be treated in a different manner than a pet animal and [people] not engage [strays] closely,” he said.

All animals taken to the SPCA are treated for ticks. Of the animals that have them, “nine out of 10 cases” are dogs, West said.

Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it caught 2,747 strays between September 2014 and August 2015.

In Japan, about 60 people contract the disease every year from tick bites with a fatality rate of around 20 per cent, according to the Japanese ministry.

No preventive medicines or vaccines are available for the disease.

“There are only symptomatic therapies, such as dealing with fever or diarrhoea,” the ministry official said.

“The best way to avoid the infection is not to be bitten by ticks,” she added.

Additional reporting by Harminder Singh