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Heartland Virus: A New Tick-Borne Threat?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Scientists have successfully proven that the dreaded Heartland virus is caused by lone star ticks and that this disease is here to stay, according to research findings published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

First recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2009, when two men from northwestern Missouri were hospitalized with high fevers, headaches and low white blood cell and platelet counts, scientists are only now able to confirm that the disease is spread by ticks.

To do this, CDC researchers undertook the seemingly Herculean task of collecting 56,428 ticks from across northern Missouri, including the farms of the two infected men. Of these, 10 samples tested positive for the Heartland virus.

One concerning finding was that this tick-borne disease persisted from season to season in the bugs, thus suggesting that the Heartland virus isn't going anywhere. Even more alarming is that there is no treatment for this disease; it is a virus and as such, it does not respond to antibiotics as the other tick-borne illnesses do.

So far, there have been only two known cases of human infection; however this doesn’t mean there haven’t been more, as it’s possible that the others did not seek treatment and simply endured the high fevers and headaches until resolution of the disease.

Researchers are now working to develop a test that can identify the virus in infected people.

Copyright 2013 ABC News

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