Japan Reports First Human-to-Human Transmission of Tick-Borne Virus SFTS

human-to-human transmission of Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS)

In a concerning development for public health, Japan has confirmed its first case of human-to-human transmission of Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS), a potentially lethal tick-borne viral hemorrhagic fever. 

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases announced that a young doctor, aged in his 20s, contracted the virus following the treatment of a patient who succumbed to the disease in April 2023.

The Case Unfolds

The medical professional was involved in the removal of a catheter and the execution of other medical procedures. He was managing this post the demise of an SFTS patient in his 90s. Subsequently, the doctor exhibited symptoms. These include a fever of 38 degrees,  and headaches, among others. It started 11 days after his initial exposure to the infected patient. Consequently, a diagnosis of SFTS was confirmed through a polymerase chain reaction test. It successfully identified the disease, which is known to spread via ixodid ticks.

Investigative Findings

Crucially, the institute deduced that the doctor acquired the virus directly from his patient. This was evidenced by the identical viral genes found in both individuals. Therefore, this case marks a significant point of concern. It was the first direct human-to-human transmission of a virus traditionally known to spread through tick bites.

Recovery and Response

Fortunately, the doctor’s health has since shown improvement. Additionally, to date, no other cases of SFTS transmission have been reported among healthcare workers, the deceased patient’s family, or funeral service providers. This isolated incident underscores the need for heightened vigilance and protective measures in healthcare settings, especially when treating infectious diseases.

Broader Implications

Human-to-human transmission of SFTS is not unprecedented, with prior instances recorded in China and South Korea. However, this first confirmed case in Japan serves as a stark reminder of the evolving nature of infectious diseases and the necessity for continuous monitoring, research, and education to prevent further spread.


The confirmation of SFTS transmission from patient to doctor in Japan adds a new layer of complexity to the management and prevention of this tick-borne illness. It calls for immediate attention to safety protocols within medical institutions to protect healthcare workers from similar risks. Thus, as SFTS continues to be a subject of study, this case highlights the importance of preparedness and adaptability in the face of emerging infectious diseases.


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