Ozark Outdoors

‘Bourbon’ tick-borne virus confirmed in Kansas

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Ticks vary somewhat in size, but most are difficult to spot. The "Bourbon" virus is spread by a tick, which are common in the Ozarks.

Ticks vary somewhat in size, but most are difficult to spot. The “Bourbon” virus is spread by a tick, which are common in the Ozarks.

TOPEKA, Kansas – A new, tick-borne virus has been confirmed in the Fort Scott area, dubbed the “Bourbon” virus because it has been linked to the death of a man in June from Bourbon County in Kansas – on the border with Vernon County in Missouri.

John Seested, 68, was admitted to University of Kansas Medical Center in June with symptoms similar to those of other tick-borne diseases, and later died from multi-organ failure. Until recently, his death remained a mystery.

However, specimens tested negative for known tick-borne diseases. Further investigation confirmed it was a new virus.

“It was very frustrating,” says Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease physician at the KU Medical Center. “That’s one of the biggest problems with my job, which I love, when we can’t answer those questions, when we can’t help the patients or their families.”

People with diseases spread by ticks see symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, muscle aches, and nausea. The Kansas man didn’t respond to typical treatments and eventually experienced multi-organ failure.

“We continued to push and have concerns as to why this happened,” adds Hawkinson. “The CDC was on board with us and was able to help us with that and we were now able to identify this new virus.”

Both the CDC and the Kansas Department of Health are working with the clinicians to learn more about the virus. The patient’s case history has been reviewed and there are plans to test other residents, with similar symptoms, who have tested negative for Heartland virus in the last year for this novel virus.

CDC has developed blood tests that can be used to identify and confirm recent Bourbon virus infections. Finally, investigations are ongoing to explore how people are getting infected with the virus, including plans to collect and test ticks and other insects for the new virus.

“This may be a cause of other people’s illness as well and those will be steps we’re going to be looking at with the CDC, too,” Hawkinson says.

There is no known specific treatment, vaccine, or drug for Bourbon virus disease. Since the virus disease is thought to be transmitted through tick or insect bites, risk to the public during the winter months is minimal. Tick-borne illnesses are most frequently transmitted between early spring and late fall since ticks are most active during warm months. By taking preventive measures, such as wearing a repellent containing 30 percent DEET, checking

daily for ticks, and actively limiting exposure to ticks and tick habitats, you can decrease your risk of infection.

To reduce the potential risk of tick- or insect-borne illnesses, KDHE and CDC recommend that people:

• Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.

• Use insect repellent containing DEET when outdoors.

• Use products that contain permethrin on clothing.

• Wear clothing with long sleeves and pants.

• Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

• Conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors.

• Examine gear and pets, as ticks can “ride” into the home and attach to a person later.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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