Kansas residents are getting advice from health officials to be on guard for bug bites as summer approaches, because of a new, deadly disease discovered there last year. The disease, Bourbon Virus, killed a man last summer and that puts it on health officials’ radar for this year.
The virus, so named after its victim’s home county, was discovered after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied the man’s death, researched his blood, and made a record of its research. The disease is caused by a tick bite, but there is not much else known about it because it is so new, officials said.
The victim, healthy and in his 50s, fell ill while working on his land in 2014. His symptoms included nausea, diarrhea, and weakness, which progressed to chills and fever. He began treatment with his family doctor, but was transferred to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, when he became worse and eventually died. Doctors sent his blood to the CDC when they could not identify the virus.
One identifying factor in the victim’s blood is that the number of white blood cells and platelets declined, making the man susceptible to infection and making it difficult for his blood to clot. That element is the same as another tick-borne disease called ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis has been reported elsewhere in the United States, according to health officials.
Scientists have identified Bourbon Virus as a part of a group called thogotoviruses, which are found all over the world. The viruses that come close in similar qualities as Bourbon Virus were reported in Africa, Asia and Europe, officials said. However, the virus is so new that officials are expressing concern for those living in the same area where the first case was discovered, and urge Kansas residents to be on guard about bug and tick bites.
Officials have long known about other tick-related viruses, like Lyme Disease, and have treatments for those. Unfortunately, those treatments will not work on Bourbon Virus, because the characteristics of the disease are not the same as other bug-born illnesses. The CDC is continuing to study Bourbon Virus, but just does not have enough information yet to form any serious conclusions.
That is the problem in developing a patient treatment plan or a test to identify the virus in other patients. Health officials do not know enough about the Bourbon Virus, since only one case has ever been reported. Therefore, there is no drug available to prevent or treat it. There is also no test to determine if a person has been infected with Bourbon Virus, although the CDC is working on developing a test.
The only recourse doctors have once a person is infected, is to treat the virus’ symptoms. Health officials said the best option for Kansas residents is to avoid bug bites, particularly tick bites, with guarded preventive measures. Precautionary measures include wearing long-sleeved clothing when working outside, use insect repellents, avoid bushes and woods, and check one’s self for ticks after spending time outdoors. Officials also advise to go to a doctor if symptoms show up.
By Melody Dareing
Photo by Premasagar Rose – Flickr license