A Kansas farmer, John Seested, age 68, died in June, 2014 after testing negative for all tick-borne illnesses, The Fort Scott Tribune reported. Still, tick-borne illnesses was listed among three causes of death on his death certificate. He was 68.
He was admitted to Kansas University Medical hospital in the summer after experiencing the common symptoms seen in tick-born diseases but tested negative on every test the doctors gave him. A wide range of treatments were applied hoping to stop or at least slow the decline of the patient but the man died from multi-organ failure before even half of the mystery could be solved.
Six months later the CDC announced the first case of the Bourbon Virus, verifying the initial findings of the Kansas Hospital. The virus shares genome structure with viruses in Asia and Africa but has never been seen in the Western hemisphere before and certainly not in the US.
The Kansas farmer had not traveled outside of the US, and now the concern continues to grow over how widely this virus has spread in the tick population. “It is unlike anything we have seen in the US” said Dana Hawkinson, M.D., the infectious disease specialist at Kansas Hospital where the man was treated. “Bourbon virus has likely been around for some time, but only recently did we have the diagnostic techniques to isolate and identify such viruses.”
A frightening aspect of this story is that experts say that the Bourbon virus, named after Bourbon County where the farmer lived, is related to the “Heartland Virus” which can be transmitted by sand fleas and mosquitoes as well as ticks.
Heartland virus was first discovered in 2009 and eventually reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012 by Drs. Scott Falk and Laura McMullan in Missouriand as of March 2014 eight cases have been identified among residents of Missouri and Tennessee. And in Oklahoma a man died of Heartland virus. Similar to Bourbon Virus, doctors say the only way to contract heartland virus is via a bite from a mosquito, tick, or sandfly.
Tick-borne viruses are a rising concern as the death toll rises from this year alone: Powassan’s virus kills 30% of those infected and is transmitted in less than 15 minutes, Deer-tick virus, Heartland virus and now Bourban virus – a very disturbing trend.
Another concern is that these viruses may have started out in a less abundant tick like the woodchuck tick that Powassan’s original strain came from. The new strain of Powassan’s is carried by deer ticks and mosquitoes according to the man who died in New Hampshire last year. (See: http://lymediseaseresource.com/wordpress/deadly-lyme-co-infection-powassan-virus-spreading-across-america/), and a 17 year-old youth who dropped dead in August of 2013 after two weeks of a mysterious flu and cough that was later revealed to be Powassan encephilitis.
Marilyn Snow also contracted this second strain of Powassan’s last year. Snow went to an emergency room to get a tick removed from her shoulder on Nov. 9, and started developing symptoms a day later.
“She quickly got weaker, vomiting, developing a high fever and meningitis, lapsing into delirium, becoming paralyzed and requiring a ventilator to breathe,” her daughter Susie Whittington remembers. “She just kept getting sicker and sicker.” Mrs. Snow died within a month on December 18, 2013 at Maine Medical Center.
From New England to the Midwest, deadly tick-borne viruses are frustrating researchers as strains mutate and evolve and become more dangerous.