Researchers are scrambling after a novel Thogotovirus emerged in the heartland of the United States last year. Dubbed the ‘Bourbon virus,’ after the county in Kansas, it is carried by ticks.
Doctors aren’t 100% on ticks being the vector, but the man had reported being bitten by ticks while undergoing tests, so ticks as carriers is the working theory.
“We were not looking for a new virus,” said Charles Hunt, Kansas state epidemiologist, who helped report on the new virus.
“We are surprised. We really don’t know much about this virus. It’s important to find out more from a public health perspective. It is possible that other persons have been infected with this and not known it?”
Information on the man who contracted the Bourbon virus is sparse. What is known is that he was under the age of 50 and relatively healthy before becoming infected. He had been working on his property for the day, before coming inside with tick bites, and one fat tick still lodged on his shoulder.
Within days, his symptoms included nausea, weakness and diarrhea. On the third day, he developed a fever and muscle aches, prompting him to go to the doctor. The doctor prescribed doxycycline, which can treat a variety of tick-borne diseases including Lyme.
By the fourth day, he was drifting in and out of consciousness and was rushed to a local hospital. Tests cleared him of Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis. With each test, the man just kept getting sicker.
With the patient testing negative for the usual suspects, doctors began throwing theories against the wall. He was tested for Q fever, fungal infections and tularemia. All negative. He was even tested for the new mystery Heartland virus that emerged in 2011.
Samples were sent to the CDC, where CDC microbiologist Olga Kosoy noticed a virus growing on the patient’s blood sample.
The CDC Erin Staples explained the find to NBC. “It took months to find out this a novel virus that belonged to a genus of viruses called Thogotovirus. Thogotoviruses have been described throughout the world.”
Public health officials are urging calm with the announcement. The news does give people another reason to avoid tick exposure. This can be done by using insect repellent and wearing long sleeves.
When the weather warms in the midwest, researchers are planning on visiting the area to find potential carriers of the Bourbon virus.
In the meantime, basic precautions can keep you safe. If you’ve been outdoors, check yourself for tick bites. Any bites should be monitored for swelling and/or reddening. If you start to feel any of the above symptoms, immediately see your doctor.