Kansas Health Department, CDC Investigating New Virus

The host of this new virus, called Bourbon virus, is unknown at this time, but it is thought to be transmitted through the bites of ticks or other insects.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Dec. 22 that it and the CDC are investigating a new virus that has been linked to the death of a Kansas resident during the summer of 2014. "Although the host of this new virus, called Bourbon virus, is unknown at this time, it is thought to be transmitted through the bites of ticks or other insects. Symptoms in the Kansas resident resembled other tick-borne diseases, including fever and fatigue," KDHE stated in a news release.

The release says this is the first known case of Bourbon virus, which has been named after Bourbon County, where the patient lived. "Because of the patient's symptoms and changes in blood counts, it was believed that the resident had a tick-borne illness, such as ehrlichiosis or Heartland virus disease. However, specimens taken from the resident tested negative for known tick-borne diseases and after further investigation it was determined to be a new, never before seen, virus. It is not known if Bourbon virus was the cause of death or how much it contributed to the resident's death," according to the agency.

It said 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 past year, and also that CDC has developed blood tests that can be used to identify and confirm recent Bourbon virus infections. How people are infected with the Bourbon virus will be examined, and they will collect and test ticks and other insects for it.

The agency's guidance says the risk to the public during the winter is "minimal," but it recommends these actions to reduce the risk further:

  • 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, because ticks can "ride" into the home and attach to a person later.
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