The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided more details Friday about a new virus that may have contributed to the death of an eastern Kansas resident late last spring.
The Bourbon virus is named after the county where the man, who was in his 50s, received multiple tick bites while working on his property. Several days later he developed nausea, weakness and diarrhea. Eleven days after he was bitten, he suffered multiple organ failure and died of cardiac arrest.
The CDC has now officially identified the novel virus as belonging to a group called thogotovirus, named for a pool of ticks collected in 1960 from the Thogoto forest near Nairobi, Kenya. It says the Kansas case is the first instance of a virus in this group causing human illness in the United States. And it’s only the eighth known case of a virus in the group causing symptoms in people worldwide, the CDC says.
“We’ve identified a new virus that appears to be a pathogen that could be dangerous to humans,” says Kansas state epidemiologist Charles Hunt, one of the authors of the CDC study.
“We don’t know much about it because it’s only been identified in one patient. But any new virus or agent that has the potential to harm human health is something that we need to be concerned about potentially and learn as much as we can about so we can help the public avoid it.”
The discovery of the virus, along with those of Heartland virus in Missouri and other pathogens in China, leads the CDC to believe that other undiscovered viruses may be making people sick.
The CDC says it doesn’t know yet whether the Bourbon virus can be found in other parts of the United States. But because thogotovirus pathogens have been linked to ticks and mosquitos in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, it says the Bourbon virus might also be spread that way.
There’s no vaccine or drug currently available to counter the virus. The CDC recommends that people protect themselves from outdoor tick and bug bites by using insect repellant, wearing long sleeves and pants, avoiding bushy and wooded areas, and performing thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors.
“Ticks are dangerous to people,” Hunt says. “They can carry lots of things. This is one additional thing that we think can be transmitted by ticks. And we obviously have a lot more work to do in terms of understanding this virus. But it’s prudent to avoid tick bites.”
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.