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HEARTLAND VIRUS Tick Control, LLC
The Heartland virus is a tick-borne disease caused by a phlebovirus. It was discovered in 2009 at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Missouri. Since its discovery, the distribution of Heartland virus has been limited to the Midwest, with 40 cases reported total as of 2018 according to the CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/heartland-virus/statistics/index.html
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of Heartland virus include fever, lethargy, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, a low white blood cell count, and low platelet count. Symptoms of Heartland virus resemble those of other tick-borne diseases, like anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.
In the confirmed cases of Heartland virus, patients noted spending time outdoors in areas where ticks may inhabit. Exposure to these areas, then, is a risk factor for Heartland virus. In addition, most patients reported being sick within 2 weeks of being bitten, so it’s thought that’s how long the incubation period is. But since there are so few cases this is still relatively unknown.
Your doctor is able to diagnose Heartland virus by a process of elimination. If you present symptoms – which are similar to other tick-borne diseases caused by bacterial infection like ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis – you may be treated first with an antibiotic. When your symptoms don’t subside, as a virus cannot be treated with antibiotics, then your doctor may conclude you have Heartland virus.
What is the Bacterium that Causes Heartland Virus?
Heartland virus is not the result of a bacterial infection, but of exposure to a virus. Phlebovirus is a genus of 10 species of viruses, of which the Heartland virus is one.
Previously, Heartland virus was identified by doctors in patients’ lymph nodes, bone marrow, and blood. However, in the second patient who died from the disease, the infection had spread to several parts of his body, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, bowels, skin, and brain.
Furthermore, it’s unclear if symptoms of the disease are caused by the viral infection or damage to the body’s organs as a result of a weakened immune system. The second fatal case of Heartland virus has doctors thinking that the virus has the potential to spread quickly and even be fatal.
Which Types of Tick Carry Heartland Virus?
In 2013, researchers identified the lone star tick as a carrier for Heartland virus. Further research has attempted to identify a common host for these lone star ticks, but results are still inconclusive. Although they’re often found feeding on white-tail deer. It’s not known currently if any other tick species are vectors for the disease.
While there is still little known about Heartland virus and the lone star tick being a vector for the disease, the lone star tick is known to carry other infectious diseases, like tularemia. Additionally, the long term effects of Heartland virus have the potential to be fatal, as evidenced by the case of one of the two deaths resulting from Heartland virus. https://www.livescience.com/56674-death-from-heartland-virus.html
It’s unconfirmed if a tick bite is the only way this Heartland virus is transmitted. As such, the virus has a biosafety level of BSL2/ABSL2 (the lowest biosafety level determined by the CDC is 1, and the highest is 4). Researchers therefore must take certain precautions when dealing with this pathogen in the lab.
Cures and Treatments
As noted earlier, doctors will typically treat patients with symptoms of a tick-borne illness with antibiotics. In the case of Heartland virus, though, another solution has to be found when the antibiotics don’t work.
In many of the confirmed cases of Heartland virus, patients were hospitalized. There have only been 2 confirmed deaths. Once it’s properly diagnosed, Heartland virus can only be treated for its symptoms. Patients may receive IV fluids for pain and fever. Since not much is known about this disease, the CDC recommends prevention as the best way to avoid Heartland virus.
Areas in Danger of Being Bitten
Heartland virus has been found in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. You’re much more likely to be infected with the virus if you travel through areas that lone star ticks inhabit. This typically includes forestry undergrowth. Heartland virus hasn’t been reported in Connecticut, although lone star ticks have been. Taking preventive measures to avoid tick bites is still recommended for residents of Connecticut.
If you live in Connecticut, it is good to know that there are no reported Heartland virus cases as of this time. However, Lonestar ticks have been reported in the state which means there is a real risk of the contracting the virus. Likewise, you are always at risk for a host of other tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease. So you should always take tick bite prevention seriously. Wear repellent when you venture outdoors, and always check yourself for ticks before coming back inside the house. Check your pets for ticks, too – especially if they roam in tall grass or shrubby areas. With the right precautions, you won’t put yourself at risk.
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