Georgia Man Dies After Contracting Tick-Borne Heartland Virus

The virus is relatively new to Georgia, and has been found in 10 states in the South and Midwest
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A Lone Star tick bite has reportedly led to the death of a Georgia man. CDC photo

A man in Baldwin County, Georgia, has died following a Lone Star tick bite that infected him with the Heartland Virus, Georgia Outdoor News reports. Officials have not identified the man, but they did confirm that the tick-borne virus is relatively new to the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most cases of the Heartland Virus have been reported in the Midwest and South. The virus was first identified in Missouri in 2009, and as of January 2021, more than 50 cases had been identified in residents of Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

The only ticks known to carry the virus are Lone Star ticks, which are native to the eastern U.S. and are faster and more aggressive than other tick species. They can be found in wooded areas and along the edges of meadows and streams during the springtime through early fall, but they are especially active from mid-March through late June.

In order to gauge the risk that these ticks pose to humans, researchers at Emory University and the University of Georgia sampled nearly 10,000 Lone Star ticks from the central part of the state last summer. They found that roughly one in 2,000 ticks carried the Heartland Virus.

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This relatively low incidence rate is cold comfort for hunters, hikers, campers, anglers, and others, however, as the CDC says there are currently no vaccines or medications available to treat the virus. And while infections do not always prove deadly, Emory University Associate Professor Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec told GON that “for those individuals with some health conditions, [the virus] can be lethal.”

Symptoms of Heartland Virus include fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain, according to the CDC. Tracing the source of the virus can be difficult because it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to appear after an infected tick bite. Lone Star ticks are also known to carry alpha-gal disease which can make its victims allergic to mammal meat (like beef, pork, and venison).