It's Tick Season

It's Tick Season

Heartland Virus – What Do I Need to Know?

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has put together a selection of answers to the questions people might ask about the recently discovered phlebovirus, which has been named the Heartland virus.

What is Heartland virus?

Heartland virus belongs to a group of viruses called phleboviruses. Viruses in the phlebovirus family are found all over the world. Sometimes these viruses can cause people to get sick. Most of the phleboviruses that cause human illness are passed to people through a bite from a mosquito, tick, or sand fly.

What is the history of Heartland virus?

In 2009, two people admitted to a Missouri hospital were later found to be infected with this virus. Both people had illness with fevers, and both recovered. Scientists who study the new virus have named it the “Heartland virus”.

What is being done about this new virus?

In 2012, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began working together to learn more about the virus. Several hospitals in Missouri have agreed to try to find other people with the same illness. CDC also has another study for people seen by doctors in other states. These studies may help find out how people get infected with Heartland virus and how to prevent other people from getting it. Also, by studying how the virus effects people, laboratories and doctors will learn more about how to diagnose Heartland virus illness.

What kind of illness does Heartland virus cause?

In 2013, five Missouri patients were diagnosed with Heartland virus. All five had a flu-like illness in May-September. They all had a fever, lost their appetite, and were very tired. Some also complained of headaches, muscle and joint aches, diarrhea, or feeling sick to their stomach. All five cases had low numbers of white blood cells that fight infection as well as another kind of cell that helps blood clot. Four of the five patients required hospitalization for their illness. Most of the five patients fully recovered.

How do people get this new virus?

Missouri’s most common tick, the Lone Star tick, has been found infected with Heartland virus. Scientific investigations are underway to find out if a bite from an infected tick is how people get Heartland virus illness.

Like Missouri’s most serious tick-borne illness, ehrlichiosis, the Lone Star tick might become infected with Heartland virus by taking a blood meal from an infected animal. Later, the tick can transmit the virus to humans when taking another blood meal.

What can I do to protect myself and my family?

  • Since this virus is in a family of viruses that can be spread by insects, you should avoid bites from ticks and mosquitoes.
  • For mosquitoes, use a repellent that gives you the length of protection you need, based on the amount of time you will be outdoors. Look for EPA-registered products that provide protection time information on the product label.
  • For ticks, use repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours.
  • For children two months and older, use a repellent with 30% DEET or less.
  • Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding 
hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • People who work outdoors for a living or who spend a lot of time outdoors may want to consider 
learning about products that contain permethrin on clothing. Clothing and gear can be pretreated with special permethrin products that adhere to boots, pants, socks, and tents. It remains protective through several washings. The product label will say to do the pretreatment outdoors and let the product fully dry before use.
  • Some commercial clothing lines are available pretreated with permethrin.
  • Always remember that heavy application of insect repellent is not needed. Read the product label 

What if I think I may be infected with this new virus?

If you feel unwell you should see your doctor. Your doctor can help figure out what might be the problem. If you had a recent tick or mosquito bite, they may take blood to test for illnesses like tularemia, ehrlichiosis, and West Nile virus. If your doctor is concerned that you may have the new virus, they can contact the DHSS.

What happens if I get the new virus?

There is no specific treatment for this virus but a doctor may be able to lessen some symptoms with medicine. You can discuss any concerns you have about your illness with your provider. There is no vaccine against Heartland virus.

Can I get a test to see if I have been infected with this virus?

Since this virus is new to medical science, there are no tests to tell if a person is infected. Researchers are working on tests that will help a doctor diagnose an infection. Developing new tests is one of the goals of the research study.

Can my pets get this virus?

It is not yet known if this virus can make pets sick. If your pet is ill, you should take it to a licensed veterinarian. Ticks may carry this virus, so talk with your veterinarian about using tick preventives on your pet.

How Do I Choose An Insect Repellent?

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