Two years before SARS-CoV-2, the Alongshan (ALS) virus emerged in China. It was alarming because it was found to be a member of the flavivirus family along with the devastating tickborne encephalitis  (TBE) virus, which can cause inflammation of the brain and of the linings of the brain and spinal cord, and bacteria leading to the infectious Lyme disease (borreliosis). 

It was discovered after patients bitten by ticks suffered from fever and headaches, the typical symptoms of a TBE infection, but no antibodies against the TBE virus or its genetic material could be detected in the affected individuals. Instead, the researchers found a previously unknown RNA virus, the Alongshan virus.

Now it has spread to Switzerland. Using a pool of 60 adult male Ixodes ricinus ticks collected during 2021 and 2022 in the Canton Grisons, Switzerland, the complete gene sequence of ALS viruses was found - far more frequently than TBE viruses. Since the symptoms of an infection with ALS viruses are similar to those of an infection with TBE viruses, the Alongshan virus could already pose a public health concern in Switzerland. Since Switzerland is a destination for UN meetings, and these ticks are spread from Portugal to Russia and from North Africa to Scandinavia. infections could easily spread worldwide.

Image via European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

That's a concern for a planet recovering from the latest coronavirus pandemic because unlike the TBE virus, there are currently no vaccination or serological detection methods for the ALS one.

“Now that we have identified the new virus and published the complete viral genome sequence, our team is developing a serological test to detect ALS virus infections in patients’ blood samples,” says Dr. Cornel Fraefel, director of the Institute of Virology at the University of Zuruch. "In collaboration with the national reference laboratory for tickborne diseases and the Spiez laboratory, the researchers plan to investigate the epidemiological spread of ALS viruses in Switzerland next year."