Study reveals Japanese woman died from cat bite

An infected cat killed a Japanese woman last year.
An infected cat killed a Japanese woman last year. Photo credit: iStock

A woman in Japan has died from a tick-borne disease after being bitten by a stray cat last year according to the country's health ministry.

The death is believed to be the first animal-to-human transmission of the disease without being bitten directly by the tick.

The woman in her 50's died around 10 days after she was bitten by the stray cat she was apparently taking to a veterinary hospital.

Samples from the woman's body were tested by authorities and confirmed she had contracted thrombocytopenia syndrome, known as SFTS, a disease transmitted by virus-carrying ticks.

The woman showed no signs of being bitten by the tick, prompting the ministry to ask if the cat had first been bitten by the tick and then transmitted the disease.

"It's still not confirmed the virus came from the cat, but it's possible that it is the first case," a Japanese health ministry official told the AFP news agency.

SFTS is a relatively new disease, confirmed in Japan, China and South Korea. 266 human-to-human infections have been reported in Japan since 2013, with 57 deaths coming from the disease.

"No reports on animal-to-human transmission cases have been made so far," the official said.

The virus is said to have fatality rates of up to 30 percent and is especially severe in people over 50.

Japan's health ministry said last year's death was still a rare case but warned people to be careful when in contact with animals in poor physical condition.

Globally, tick bites are widely associated with transmitting Lyme disease which can lead to severe illness and death if left untreated.

No preventive medicines or vaccines are available for the disease.

"There are only symptomatic therapies, such as dealing with fever or diarrhea," the ministry official said.