Ticks carrying a rare but deadly virus have been located in six states across the US, a new study released Wednesday revealed.
Lone star ticks in Georgia picked up the Heartland virus, a mysterious illness that can sicken or even kill older adults or people with underlying conditions.
Researchers at Emory University are looking to raise awareness of the issue before springtime, when people are more likely to get exposed to ticks. They published their findings in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publication.
‘We want to bring awareness rather than panic,’ said Gonzalo M Vazquez-Prokopec, a co-author of the study.
While the Heartland virus remains mostly a mystery, scientists know that it is transmitted to people by a tick bite. The infection can cause fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea and muscle or joint pain.
It’s unclear whether other types of ticks can spread the Heartland virus, or if people can become infected in other ways, the CDC said.
The rare virus was first discovered in 2009 in Missouri when two men were hospitalized with high fever, diarrhea, muscle pains and low counts of white blood cells. Both men were also experiencing other symptoms similar to those experienced with diseases like Lyme disease.
Lone star ticks, named for a distinctive white spot on its back, are the most common tick in Georgia, and can be found in wooded areas across the southeast, eastern and midwest US.
As of January, only 50 cases of the disease caused by the virus were reported, according to the CDC. In severe cases, those with the illness have ended up in the hospital. Most have fully recovered after receiving treatment, but few elderly individuals with pre-existing medical conditions died after contracting the virus.
There are currently no vaccines or medications available to prevent or treat infection with the Heartland virus, according to the CDC.
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