Heartland-virus

New Tick-Borne Virus Lurks In Missouri’s Woods

Last year, scientists got the chance to solve a medical mystery — well, at least half of it.

Two Missouri farmers came down with a strange illness in 2009. They had high fevers, diarrhea and nausea. Their platelet counts dropped dramatically.

Doctors thought it was a bacterial infection. But antibiotics didn’t help. So a quick-thinking physician at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Mo., sent the men’s blood to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When virologists looked at the samples under the microscope, they discovered a virus that no one had ever seen before. They named it the Heartland virus, in honor of its origin and the Midwest.

Both farmers eventually recovered from the illness. But a piece of the puzzle was still missing. How did the men catch the virus? Where did it come from?

Now entomologists at the CDC have filled in the blanks. The bug specialists have identified the Heartland virus in ticks at a farm and in a park in northwest Missouri, near where the two farmers live.

“It means the virus is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S. — and another reason to prevent getting bit," says the study’s lead author, Harry Savage

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The photo shows a dangerous trio (from left): a deer tick, lone star tick and dog tick. Photo by Getty Images.

Coronavirus particles with their characteristic spiky halos.

Virus R Us

Initially, the recent death of a Saudi Arabian man from an unidentified viral infection renewed fears of another SARS panic, which swept around the world in 2003, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing almost 1,000.

It turns out, however, that while the mysterious virus superficially resembled SARS, it was in fact more closely related to coronaviruses that infect Southeast Asia bats. Coronaviruses get their name from their characteristic halo of projecting membrane proteins.

The identification, reported by Dutch virologists who managed to sequence the entire viral genome of 30,118 letters in less than a month, is reassuring in some ways: The virus doesn’t appear to be particularly virulent and hasn’t yet acquired the ability to jump from human to human. Researchers suspect the Saudi Arabian man was infected via an “amplifier” animal, such as a civet cat. When a virus jumps species, it typically doesn’t travel directly from originating host to humans. Amplifier animals get their name because they serve as intermediary steps, providing a place for viruses to replicate and increase in numbers, boosting their infectiousness.

On the other hand, the new viral threat is one of several recent reminders that the world is full of ever-changing potential microbial dangers. In Missouri, for example, researchers recently identified a new “Heartland virus.” In Central Africa, a new form of hemorrhagic fever has been discovered.

In the latter case, the term “new” is relative.  The virus was only recently reported in PloS Pathogens, but the three cases described are three years old. (Tissues samples from the patients – two of whom died – had languished in a freezer in Kinshasa, Zaire until a smart doctor realized what they were.)

Unusual Tick-Borne Virus Lurks In Missouri’s Woods

Last year, scientists got the chance to solve a medical mystery — well, at least half of it. This week the final puzzle pieces fell into place, as investigators tracked the newly identified virus to an eight-legged bug.

The mystery actually began with two Missouri farmers who came down with a strange illness in 2009. They had high fevers, diarrhea and nausea. Their platelet counts dropped dramatically, though they didn’t experience any abnormal bleeding.

Doctors thought it was a bacterial infection. But antibiotics didn’t help. So a quick-thinking physician at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Mo., sent the men’s blood to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When virologists looked at the samples under the microscope, they discovered a virus that no one had ever seen before. They named it the Heartland virus, in honor of its origin and the Midwest.

Both farmers eventually recovered from the illness. But a piece of the puzzle was still missing. How did the men catch the virus? Where did it come from?

Now entomologists at the CDC have filled in the blanks. The bug specialists have identified the Heartland virus in ticks at a farm and in a park in northwest Missouri, near where the two farmers live.

“It’s the first time anyone has found it in the wild, in the environment,” says the study’s lead author, Harry Savage. “It means the virus is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S. — and another reason to prevent getting bit.”

Both farmers had been bitten by ticks before getting sick. So Savage and his colleagues hunted for the virus in 12 locations around St. Joseph and the Missouri River. They collected more than 50,000 ticks during the summer of 2012, and even picked the bloodsuckers off horses and dogs on the patients’ farms.

The virus showed up in only one species: the lone star tick. And it wasn’t in the adult ticks — just the young ones, called nymphs.

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Have You Heard About Powassan?

Have You Heard About Powassan? first appeared on the Backyard Bug Patrol blog.

It’s the new emerging tick borne virus. With similar symptoms to Lyme disease, Powassan can be just as dangerous and is also know to be fatal. If you are heading into areas where there’s potential for ticks to ‘hang out’ then make sure you keep yourself covered.  Here’s an article with further information about the disease.

Non-Treatable Virus Found In Ticks In Southern Connecticut

An emerging tick-borne disease is starting to show up in Bridgeport and Branford, a researcher says.
The Powassan virus has symptoms that are similar to those of Lyme disease, including headache, nausea and fever, WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reported.

The symptoms described should be enough to make people stop and take notice. However, it’s still a fact that people are not taking enough preventative measures to protect themselves, their families and their pets.

Last year the Heartland virus made headlines as being one of the recently discovered tick borne diseases that proved to be fatal.

It just shows how quickly becoming infected can have such a rapid deterioration on your health.  Don’t leave it too late, make sure your tick control is ‘tip-top’. This latest disease could be worse than Lyme.

Doctors Say Tick Borne ‘Powassan Virus’ Is Worse Than Lyme Disease

Dr. Cameron is the President of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. He said that if bitten by an infected tick you can get the virus within a matter of minutes, and while the symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, they are more severe.
“You can get seizures, high fevers, stiff neck. It comes on so suddenly that it’s the kind of thing people go to the emergency room for,” he explained.

Please share this information with as many people as you can. We want to aid in the prevention of disease, not only by assisting you with services such as barrier spray programs, but also to raise awareness.  Stay tick protected everyone!

Image used under creative commons with thanks to John Tann