Health experts are warning the public about a relatively new tick-borne illness that has now claimed the life of an Oklahoma resident.
The disease, called the Heartland Virus, was first discovered in 2009. There have been nine known cases of the illness in only three states, including Tennessee and Missouri.
A Tennessean died from the disease last year.
The virus is believed to be spread by the Lone Star tick.
“It’s a very aggressive biter, so if you have a tick on you, most likely it will be a Lone Star tick. It’s fairly recognizable and has a white dot on its back,” explained Dr. Abelardo Moncayo, with the Tennessee Department of Health’s Division of Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness.
According to Dr. Moncayo, symptoms of the Heartland Virus include a high fever, low platelet count, low white blood cell count, fatigue, lack of energy and no appetite.
“We’re trying to make physicians aware, when they see patients with certain symptoms and have had tick exposure, to consider the Heartland Virus,” said Dr. Moncayo.
The disease is a virus and transmission can occur very quickly.
It’s important for people to check for ticks after spending time outdoors. Ticks live in wooded areas and high grass most often, but can also be found in backyards and on pets.
Dr. Moncayo recommends removing ticks as soon as you notice them by using tweezers.
There is currently no vaccine for the Heartland Virus. There is also no commercial test to diagnosis the virus, but there is a test available through a CDC study.
According to health experts, all of the patients diagnosed with the virus have been white males, older than 50 who typically spend a lot of time outside.
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