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Tick-borne Heartland virus on the rise

CDC warns that Lone Star ticks may carry a new but growing tick-borne disease.
Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov)

In a March 27 press release, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a relatively new tick-borne virus has spread from its origin state (Missouri) to Tennessee. By the end of March 2014, eight cases of Heartland virus disease had been identified among residents of Missouri and Tennessee. Additional cases reported in early April brought the total closer to a dozen. First encountered in 2009 and identified in 2012, the Heartland virus packs quite a punch.

According to the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (DVBD), the Heartland virus belongs to a family of viruses called Phleboviruses. Though researchers are still trying to pinpoint how people become infected with Heartland virus, recent studies suggest that Lone Star ticks may transmit the virus. As reported in August 2013, experts warned that the Lone Star tick population was rising at an alarming rate.

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. When the patients failed to improve with treatment and testing failed to confirm ehlrlichiosis, CDC eventually identified the cause of illness was a previously unknown virus, now called Heartland virus.

Symptoms and treatment

Common denominators for all patients diagnosed with Heartland virus are as follows:

  • Symptoms emerge between May and September
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Low numbers of cells that fight infection and that help blood clot

Some infected patients also complained of headaches, muscle aches, diarrhea, appetite loss, or nausea. Most required hospitalization for their illness but fully recovered. Treatment includes intravenous fluids and treatment for pain or fever. One elderly patient died as a result of the Heartland virus.

Prevention is key

When it comes to tick-borne diseases, the best defense is a good offense. To prevent tick bites the CDC recommends:

  • Use insect repellents
  • Wear long sleeves and pants
  • Avoid bushy and wooded areas
  • Perform thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors

Would you recognize a Lone Star tick if you saw one? To learn more about ticks and the diseases each may carry, click here.

To read other articles by this author, click here.