Here in Maryland, everyone is familiar with what I refer to as the “dangerous double” of vector-borne illness. These are West Nile Virus which is spread through a mosquito bite, and Lyme Disease, which is spread through the bite of an infected tick. As deadly as both illnesses can be, we also feel it is important to help educate about other lesser-know vector borne illnesses and new illnesses that are brought to our attention as each new season arrives. Part of our responsibility to the community is to learn as much as we can to aid in preventing the spread of vector-borne disease and illness.With this in mind, Mosquito Squad of Montgomery County and Mosquito Squad of Howard County explores a handful of the lesser-known tick-borne illnesses as well as some newcomers that we are keeping an eye on:
- Heartland Virus:
Heartland virus also known as Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome Virus (aka SFTS or SFTSV ), is thought to be caused by a bunyavirus. It’s origins began when two Missouri men contracted a strange illness in 2009. The illness was discovered to be a new and unknown virus which eventually became known as Heartland virus, aptly named for the Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, MO, where it was first discovered. Both men were hospitalized for nearly two weeks and it took months for them to recover. One man says he still has problems with short-term memory, fatigue and headaches three years after the initial infection.
Heartland virus has been discovered in lone star and other ticks in the United States and China. It can also be transmitted from human to human through a patients infected blood and mucous. The virus is reported to cause a fever, lymph node swelling, multi-organ dysfunction, altered consciousness, diarrhea, leucocytopenia, and a condition known as thrombocytopenia (bleeding on skin surface or internally). Patients may also present red/purple spots on their skin (petechiae) or bruises (purpura or ecchymosis).
Bartonella (called “Lyme Disease’s cruel cousin) is not new on the scene of vector-borne illness but according to the Maryland Lyme website Marylanders are at risk for exposure to various Bartonella bacteria. These rarely mentioned illnesses, Bartonella henselae and Bartonella quintana, are sometimes referred to as “cat-scratch” and “trench” fever, and are two types of intracellular gram negative bacteria which can cause severe, chronic health issues and sudden death. Bartonella organisms have been detected in ticks, fleas, cats, mice, rats, voles, pigs, dogs, ear mites, lice, flies, bobcats, elk, animal saliva, dust mites, mountain lions, deer, coyotes and foxes.
Although Powassan Virus has not been reported in Maryland, over 60 cases have been reported in the Great Lakes and Northeast Region over the past 10 years. This virus is a tick-borne encephalitis spread through a deer tick, originally discovered in the town of Powassan, Ontario in 1958. In mouse studies it has been reported the virus can be transmitted within 15 minutes of an infected tick bite. Powassan Virus symptoms can begin 1 to 4 weeks after a tick bite. Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurologic problems may occur. There is no specific treatment, but people with severe POW virus illnesses often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain.
- Bourbon Virus discovered in Kansas:
Bourbon Virus is a new virus believed to be spread through the bite of a tick. This virus was first reported in December, 2014 and is said to be ” fast-moving and severe, causing lung and kidney failure, and shock,” The New York Times reported, killing a previously healthy man after only 10 days in the hospital during the summer of 2014.
According to a story published by the Huffington Post, “Together, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and University of Kansas Hospital researchers identified the virus as a thogotovirus, part of a larger type of viruses called orthomyxoviruses.” Bourbon virus, named after Bourbon County, Kansas, where the only known patient lived, is similar to viruses seen previously in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia but nothing like it had ever been identified in the Western Hemisphere before. At present, the full spectrum of the virus is under study. Since this victim was the first identified case researchers are unsure if the disease is deadly or further incidence could be mild enough for patients to recover.
Tick-borne disease and illness is on the rise nationwide as each year researchers are discovering a new or never before seen bacteria or virus carried by ticks. Just this April, scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine partnered with researchers in China in studying blood samples from 477 patients in northeastern China who were bitten by a tick during a monthlong period in 2014. What the study revealed unveiled an unidentified type of bacteria present in the ticks. The analysis showed that 28 patients (6%) had been infected with a previously unidentified type bacteria which scientists named Anaplasma capra.
Researchers believe the newly identified bacteria comes from goat populations, and is delivered by a species known as the Taiga tick. The disease’s scientific name is half-derived from the Latin word for goat, “capra.” The Taiga tick is prevalent in China, Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia, including Japan. More than a fifth of the world’s population lives within the taiga Tick’s range.
Although we cannot change the scheme of things abroad, we can take precautions in reducing the risk of vector-borne illness in our own backyards! Contact Mosquito Squad of Montgomery County or Mosquito Squad of Howard County today to learn how to stay protected this season! You can reach us by phone at (301) 926-3001, or via email at montgomery-county.mosquitosquad.com.