New tick-borne Alongshan virus in China

Dr K K Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
Researchers in northeastern China has discovered a new segmented RNA virus associated with febrile illness in dozens of patients, and they suspect that the virus is transmitted by ticks, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
They named the previously unknown pathogen the Alongshan virus (ALSV).

It should be differentiated from other tick-borne diseases, such as severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome, tick-borne encephalitis, anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis and babesiosis. Here is the NEJM Abstract

BACKGROUND: In 2017, surveillance for tickborne diseases in China led to the identification of a patient who presented to a hospital in Inner Mongolia with a febrile illness that had an unknown cause. The clinical manifestation of the illness was similar to that of tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV) infection, but neither TBEV RNA nor antibodies against the virus were detected.

METHODS: We obtained a blood specimen from the index patient and attempted to isolate and identify a causative pathogen, using genome sequence analysis and electron microscopy. We also initiated a heightened surveillance program in the same hospital to screen for other patients who presented with fever, headache, and a history of tick bites. We used reverse-transcriptase–polymerase-chain-reaction (RT-PCR) and cell-culture assays to detect the pathogen and immunofluorescence and neutralization assays to determine the levels of virus-specific antibodies in serum specimens from the patients.

RESULTS: We found that the index patient was infected with a previously unknown segmented RNA virus, which we designated Alongshan virus (ALSV) and which belongs to the jingmenvirus group of the family Flaviviridae. ALSV infection was confirmed by RT-PCR assay in 86 patients from Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang who presented with fever, headache, and a history of tick bites. Serologic assays showed that seroconversion had occurred in all 19 patients for whom specimens were available from the acute phase and the convalescent phase of the illness.

CONCLUSIONS: A newly discovered segmented virus was found to be associated with a febrile illness in northeastern China. (Funded by the National Key Research and Development Program of China and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.)