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Death of Kansan linked to new virus that may be tick-borne

Although investigators don’t yet know the source of a new virus, called Bourbon virus, they think that it may be transmitted through the bites of ticks or other insects.
Although investigators don’t yet know the source of a new virus, called Bourbon virus, they think that it may be transmitted through the bites of ticks or other insects. File photo

State and federal health officials are investigating a new virus that’s been linked to the death of a Kansas resident last summer.

Although investigators don’t yet know the source of this new virus, called Bourbon virus, they think that it may be transmitted through the bites of ticks or other insects. The Kansas resident’s symptoms, including fever and fatigue, resembled those of other tick-borne diseases.

This is the first known case of Bourbon virus, which has been named after Bourbon County in southeastern Kansas, where the patient had lived, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Monday.

The patient’s symptoms and changes in blood counts initially led doctors to think that the resident had a tick-borne illness, such as ehrlichiosis or Heartland virus disease, the department said. However, the resident tested negative for known tick-borne diseases, and after further investigation it was determined to be a virus that had never been seen before.

It is not known if Bourbon virus was the cause of death or how much it contributed to the resident’s death.

The Kansas department said the resident’s medical history has been reviewed and there are plans to test other residents with similar symptoms, but who had tested negative for Heartland virus, to see if they had Bourbon virus.

Heartland virus disease was first identified in 2012 and is thought to be spread by ticks. As of March, eight cases of Heartland virus disease have been reported among residents of Missouri and Tennessee, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not known whether Heartland virus may be found in other areas of the United States, the CDC said.

The CDC has developed blood tests that can be used to identify and confirm recent Bourbon virus infections. Investigations are under way to explore how people are being infected with the virus, including plans to collect and test ticks and other insects for the new virus.

There is no specific treatment, vaccine or medication for Bourbon virus disease. Because the Bourbon virus is thought to be transmitted through tick or insect bites, risk to the public during the winter months is minimal, the state health department said.

To reduce the potential risk of tick- or insect-borne illnesses when the weather gets warmer, health officials recommend that people avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, use insect repellent containing DEET when outdoors, wear clothing with long sleeves and pants, conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors and examine gear and pets for ticks.

To reach Alan Bavley, call 816-234-4858 or send email to abavley@kcstar.com.

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