A woman in Japan has died after a bite from a stray cat that was carrying a tick-borne viral disease. It is the first recorded instance of a direct mammal-to-human transmission of the virus.

The woman was reported to have been helping the cat and attempted to take it to a veterinarian.

The 50-year-old woman died of Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS) 10 days after being bitten by the cat. She showed no signs of having been bitten by a tick, leading Japan's health ministry to conclude that it was the cat bite that transmitted the disease to her.

"No reports on animal-to-human transmission cases have been made so far," a Japanese health ministry official told the AFP news agency. "It's still not confirmed the virus came from the cat, but it's possible that it is the first case."

There have been few cases of SFTS, confined to East Asia. It first emerged in China, but was since then found in Japan and South Korea.

The disease was first reported in Japan in 2013. A total of about 266 cases of infection have been reported in the country, with a mortality rate of about 30%. There is no effective treatment for the disease known so far.

Symptoms of SFTS include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, multiple organ failure and changes to blood cell counts.