In 2009 two Missouri farmers became very sick with high fevers, diarrhea and nausea. Their platelet counts dropped dramatically, but doctors were baffled because they were not having any abnormal bleeding. They thought it was a bacterial infection but antibiotics didn’t respond. Thankfully one doctor thought to send their blood samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report that came back was astounding.
It turns out both men had a virus that had never been seen before. Now, entomologists at the CDC have completed this puzzle that has been coming together for over three years. An article on NPR stated researchers have discovered a new virus appropriately named the Heartland virus in ticks near where the two farmers lived.
So, are you at risk even if you aren’t in Missouri? After testing many, many ticks, Harry Savage, Chief Research Entomologist for the CDC, and his team have narrowed it down to just one species that carries the virus: the Lone Star tick (see image above), recognizable for the white dot on its back. The lone star tick has a broad distribution in the U.S., occupying much of the Southeast. “It’s the first time anyone has found it in the wild, in the environment,” says Savage. “It means the virus is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S. — and another reason to prevent getting bit.”