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News Navigator: Can infections be passed from ixodid ticks to humans?

A swollen ixodid tick is seen after sucking blood. (Photo provided by the Department of Medical Entomology, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers might have about infections originally stemming from ixodid ticks.

    Question: Is it possible for highly fatal infections, that initially derive from ixodid ticks, to be passed on from pets to humans?

    Answer: Yes, there are a few confirmed cases where people were infected with severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) from animals. It is possible for both humans and animals to become infected after being bitten by ixodid ticks that carry the SFTS virus, and the first case of a human being directly infected by a pet dog was confirmed in October 2017. The infection happened in June, and both the dog and the owner have already recovered. In addition, a woman who was bitten by a stray cat in the summer of 2016 became infected with SFTS and later died.

    Q: If you are bitten by a dog or cat, will you be infected?

    A: It's not possible to become infected by a dog or a cat that does not carry the SFTS virus. The man who was caring for his sick dog, and who developed SFTS, was not bitten. The SFTS virus is contained in things such as saliva, blood and feces. For example, if the saliva of an infected animal sticks to a human hand, it is thought that infection can happen via cuts on the skin or through eye membranes.

    Q: What are the symptoms?

    A: Infected cats and dogs typically have problems with their digestive symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the outbreak of SFTS has been detected in three cats and one dog, and at least one cat died. In July, two cheetahs died of SFTS at a zoo in Hiroshima. An expert on the virus thinks that symptoms of SFTS tend to be serious in animals belonging to the cat family. All the cases so far have happened in western Japan.

    Q: I'm suddenly feeling quite scared.

    A: Symptoms in pets were not confirmed until this year. However, there are many cases in which the cause of the symptoms is not known. With SFTS becoming recognized as an illness, it is now possible to make a diagnosis. Furthermore, some experts have pointed out that ixodid ticks, which are usually found in fields, are expanding the range of their habitats together with wild animals such as boar and deer, and entering human habitats.

    Q: What should pet owners be careful of?

    A: The health ministry encourages owners to avoid excessive contact with pets that are unwell, and to take such pets to the vet immediately. Special tick repellents for pets can be used. It is important that ixodid ticks do not attach themselves to the animals. (Answers by Miha Cho, the Lifestyle News Department)

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