First posted on 07-25-2013
A mysterious virus that afflicted two Missouri farmers in 2009 was confirmed as a disease transmitted to humans through tick bites.
The two Missouri men were admitted to the hospital after suffering from high fevers, fatigue, diarrhea, and an extreme drop in white blood cell counts. Since the symptoms resembled those of a bacterial infection, the men were treated with a course of antibiotics. The symptoms did not show improvement, and the men were hospitalized for nearly two weeks. Both finally recovered, but the mystery surrounding their ailment continued.
Researchers were able to sequence the virus last year. Although it resembled another tick-borne disease found in China, the sequenced virus was new, and had not been identified. The research team called the new pathogen the Heartland virus.
Since both farmers had reported suffering tick bites—with one of the men stating he had had up to 20 tick bites a day—the research team pursued that avenue. Initial results were inconclusive.
Recently, Harry Savage, a medical entomologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assembled a team that collected over 7,000 ticks from the woods of Missouri. After grinding them up, the team discovered that 1 in 500 lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanu) carried the Heartland virus. Lone star ticks are common throughout the southern and eastern United States.
The Heartland virus becomes one more in a growing list of serious illnesses borne by ticks. Along with Heartland, ticks can also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and another mystery virus that apparently triggers meat-related allergies in those afflicted.
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