Kansas Man Apparently Killed by Newly Discovered Virus

A newly discovered virus is called the Bourbon virus, named for the county where it was found. (PHOTO CREDIT: CDC)
A newly discovered virus is called the Bourbon virus, named for the county where it was found. (PHOTO CREDIT: CDC)

A newly discovered virus – probably spread by ticks – appears to have killed a Kansas man, federal health officials said Friday.

The man became ill last spring after being bitten by ticks while working on his property. Doctors sent his blood to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where sophisticated genetic tests found that he was infected with a previously undiscovered virus never known to cause illness in the U.S.

CDC scientists are calling it the Bourbon virus because the man lived in Bourbon, County, Kansas. The Bourbon virus belongs to a family called thogotoviruses; its closest relatives have only been found in Europe, Asia and Africa.

The man, whose illness began with nausea, weakness and diarrhea, became progressively sicker, developed a fever and chills.

His doctor treated him with antibiotics, a standard therapy for illness related to tick bites, which can transmit bacteria. The man’s doctors “did all the right things,” says J. Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC.

The man, who was previously healthy and in his 50s, eventually became so sick that doctors transferred him to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, the CDC says. Doctors tested him for a variety of well-known viruses but found nothing they recognized. Eventually, they sent his blood sample to the CDC for advanced tests.

The case is perplexing for several reasons.

Thogotoviruses usually make people sick by causing meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain, or a brain inflammation called encephalitis. They aren’t known for causing problems with blood cells, according to the CDC.

But early blood tests of the Kansas man showed that he had a decline in his white blood cells, which fight infections, as well as his platelets, which help the blood to clot. Those symptoms are similar to those of ehrlichiosis, a bacterial illness caused by ticks that has been diagnosed in the USA, Staples says.

Ticks also can carry Heartland virus, another newly discovered microbe that has sickened eight people in Tennessee and Missouri since 2012. Heartland virus can also cause a decline in blood cells.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Liz Szabo

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