New virus found in northwest Mo. carried by ticks

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NEAR FILLMORE, Mo. -- A new virus found in Northwest Missouri is carried by ticks, according to research published Monday.

The virus, known as Heartland Virus, was identified for the first time in the world after two farmers were hospitalized in 2009. The research published Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene confirms that the virus is in lone star ticks. Both men had tick bites prior to becoming ill.

On Monday, a team from Missouri Western State University and the Centers for Disease Control collected ticks at the Honey Creek Conservation Area. Flannel pads ordinarily used in baby bedding attracted the ticks.

"They'll grab a hold of a host or a flannel sheet as we're using," says Dr. David Ashley of Missouri Western.

In the newly-published study, the virus was found in samples taken last year from one of the farmer's land and from the conservation area.

"It's still here and it still poses a risk to people," says Dr. William Nicholson of the CDC.

However, no other human cases have been identified yet. Researchers found the virus in one in 500 ticks. That may seem low until you consider that only one in a thousand mosquitoes carries West Nile Virus in places where it's prevalent.

So how did the ticks get the virus? Possibilities to be investigated include deer, wild turkey, raccoons and squirrels.

Heartland Virus is closely related to a new tickborne virus in China that has killed humans.

"So that has stirred up the virus world a bit," says Dr. Nicholson.

He says if someone comes down with a tickborne illness and antibiotics aren't helping, Heartland Virus should be considered a possibility. Symptoms include fever, headaches and extreme fatigue. Both farmers recovered.

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