Heartland virus disease is a tick-borne disease that was first identified in 2009.
In the American South and Midwest, the virus is carried by the lone star tick.
Although little is known about this new illness, doctors are attempting to keep a close eye on ticks.
Dr. Scott Folk treated two patients in western Missouri in 2009 who had become unwell as a result of tick bites.
From Lyme disease to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, most tick-borne infections start off with flu-like symptoms. In a radio appearance with NPR station KCUR, Folk revealed that the patients in Missouri had chills, fever, and headaches.
They had ehrlichiosis, a bacterial condition carried by a common tick type in the region, according to the doctor. However, despite taking antibiotics, the patients did not improve, and lab testing indicated that they had a hitherto unknown viral illness.
After the Heartland Regional Medical Center, where the patients were diagnosed, the new virus was called Heartland virus. More than 50 instances of Heartland virus illness have been found in persons residing in the southern and midwestern United States in the 13 years following its discovery.
In comparison to other tick-borne infections, little is known about the virus, but physicians and scientists working in the area are collecting ticks to learn more.
“This is not a virus that will take over the globe, so there’s no need to fear,” said Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, an associate professor at Emory University who leads a team investigating vector-borne illnesses. “As scientists, we’re attempting to accomplish what we couldn’t with COVID: learn all we can about the virus before it becomes a problem.”
The Heartland virus, among other illnesses, may be transmitted by the lone star tick.
According to statistics from the Centers for Illness Control and Prevention, cases of Heartland virus disease have been documented in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
According to the CDC, the virus is carried through the bite of the lone star tick, which is found across the eastern United States. The tick is most widespread in the Southeast, but as temperatures have risen, it has traveled westward and as far north as Canada, according to Vazquez-Prokopec.
The lone star tick, which has a single white dot on the back of adult female ticks, has also been linked to the transmission of other viruses and bacteria that cause more frequent diseases including ehrlichiosis. This tick species, unlike blacklegged ticks, does not transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
To far, just one instance of Heartland virus sickness has been detected in Georgia, where Vazquez-Prokopec works – a Georgia resident who died of an unexplained condition in 2005 was confirmed postmortem with the virus. Researchers from Emory’s Prokopec Laboratory recently gathered approximately 10,000 ticks in that area. The virus was found in around one out of every 2,000 lone star ticks sampled.
Fever and muscular soreness are common symptoms.
Patients with high fevers, diarrhea, muscular cramps, and low counts of white blood cells and platelets were hospitalized when the Heartland virus was initially discovered in Missouri.
According to the CDC, other symptoms of Heartland virus sickness include tiredness, reduced appetite, headache, and nausea. Because the condition looks like many other tick-borne illnesses and viral infections, the only way to know for sure is to visit a doctor who can conduct a test.
According to infectious disease specialists, the true number of people sick is likely significantly greater than the CDC’s stated figure of 50. Based on donor blood tests done in 2013, researchers calculated that between 1% and 4% of the population in northern Missouri had antibodies confirming they had been exposed to the Heartland virus. Only two human instances of the sickness have been verified at the time.
“That’s why we know the 50 instances are an underestimate,” Vazquez-Prokopec told Insider. “We’re not catching the whole range of sickness.” “People may be unwell and not seek medical help, or they may seek medical help but not be tested for the virus.”
People should take care to prevent ticks while going outdoors in the spring, summer, and autumn, regardless of the danger presented by the Heartland virus, he noted.