Kansas health officials, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating the possible viral cause of death of a state resident over the summer by a new, or novel virus called Bourbon virus.

Bourbon County, Kansas (red)/David Benbennick
Bourbon County, Kansas (red)/David Benbennick

This is the first known case of Bourbon virus, which has been named after Bourbon County, where the patient had lived. Because of the patient’s symptoms and changes in blood counts, it was believed that the resident had a tick-borne illness, such as ehrlichiosis or Heartland virus disease. However, specimens taken from the resident tested negative for known tick-borne diseases and after further investigation it was determined to be a new, never before seen, virus. It is not known if Bourbon virus was the cause of death or how much it contributed to the resident’s death.

CDC, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), and the clinical team are working to learn more about this new virus. The patient’s case history has been reviewed and there are plans to test other residents, with similar symptoms, who have tested negative for Heartland virus in the last year for this novel virus. CDC has developed blood tests that can be used to identify and confirm recent Bourbon virus infections. Finally, investigations are ongoing to explore how people are getting infected with the virus, including plans to collect and test ticks and other insects for the new virus.

There is no known specific treatment, vaccine, or drug for Bourbon virus disease. Since Bourbon virus disease is thought to be transmitted through tick or insect bites, risk to the public during the winter months is minimal.

Related: Tickborne diseases: It’s not just Lyme disease

Health officials offer the following recommendations to reduce the chance of  tick- or insect-borne illnesses: Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter; Use insect repellent containing DEET when outdoors; Use products that contain permethrin on clothing; Wear clothing with long sleeves and pants; Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you; Conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors; and Examine gear and pets, as ticks can “ride” into the home and attach to a person later.

LISTEN: Daniel Pastula, MD, MHS, EIS Officer & Neurologist with CDC’s Arboviral Diseases Branch discusses the new Heartland virus disease