One thing that’s a given with infectious diseases is that there’s always something new to learn. Interestingly, I had a couple enquiries about an obscure virus last week, and was subsequently sent a link to a news report about the same disease: severe fever with thrombocytopenia virus.

As the mouthful of a name suggests, the virus causes a syndrome characterized by severe fever with thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). It’s a tick-borne virus that was initially found in China.  The reported mortality (death) rates range from 6-30%, which would make it one of the more serious infectious diseases one can get. However, like many “rare” diseases, it’s possible that it’s actually more common and less severe overall than we realize. If only people who are very sick get tested, that biases the death rate to a higher level. It’s possible (although completely speculative on my behalf) that many other people get sick, get better and never get diagnosed (or possibly even get infected and never get sick at all). It’s a possibility we always have to consider when interpreting death rates from rare diseases.

The news report involves a woman from Japan who died last year from this disease. The unique aspect of this case is that she was caring for her sick cat, and was bitten by the cat. She didn’t have any known tick exposure so doctors hypothesized that the cat was the source. However, it’s not known whether the cat was infected or whether it can be spread by a cat bite. That leaves this very speculative but something to consider.

While it’s unclear whether the cat was the source of infection in this case, it’s a good general reminder of the need to use basic hygiene practices around animals (especially sick animals), to take care to reduce the risk of bites and to promptly and thoroughly clean bite wounds. That doesn’t prevent all infections, but it can reduce the risk.