Not long ago, we reported on a newly-discovered food allergy that's spread by ticks. And now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has found 6 new cases of people sick with Heartland virus, also thought to be spread by ticks.
Of the latest cases, 5 are in Missouri and 1 in Tennessee.
Heartland virus was first reported in two northwestern Missouri farmers who were hospitalized in 2009 with what was thought to be ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne disease. However, the patients failed to improve with treatment and testing failed to confirm ehlrlichiosis.
Working with state and local partners, CDC eventually identified the cause of the men’s illness: a previously unknown virus now dubbed Heartland virus.
So far, all of the patients have been white men over the age of 50. Their symptoms started in May to September and included fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, nausea, or muscle pain. Of the 6 new cases, 4 were hospitalized and 1 died.
Of the 6 new cases, 5 reported tick bites in the days or weeks before they fell ill.
Lone Star ticks
The CDC says its studies indicate the Heartland virus is carried by Lone Star ticks, which are primarily found in the southeastern and eastern United States. Additional studies seek to confirm whether ticks can spread the virus to people and to learn what other insects or animals may be involved in the transmission cycle. CDC is also looking for Heartland virus in other parts of the country.
So far, there is no specific treatment, vaccine or drug for Heartland virus disease. Because it is caused by a virus, the disease also does not respond to antibiotics used to treat tickborne bacterial infections such as Lyme disease. However, supportive therapies such as IV fluids and fever reducers can relieve some Heartland disease symptoms.
To reduce the risk of Heartland and other vector-borne diseases, CDC recommends that people:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter;
- Use insect repellent when outdoors;
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing;
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you;
- Conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors; and
- Examine gear and pets, as ticks can “ride” into the home and attach to a person later.