Case of Bourbon virus, rare tick disease, is confirmed in Missouri

Published: Jun. 30, 2017 at 8:48 AM CDT
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Here's a warning about a rare, potentially deadly virus that is transmitted by ticks. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirms it is aware of a case of Bourbon virus in the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services this week began trapping and collecting ticks at Meramec State Park near Sullivan. They'll test them for any kind of tick-borne illness.

Though Meramec State Park is an area of interest in the Bourbon virus investigation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources says it has no information to suggest the potential exposure risk at the park is any greater than anywhere else in Missouri. Meramec Park and its facilities will remain open during the tick collection process.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, this is only the fourth confirmed case of Bourbon virus in the country. The virus can be fatal but state officials won't confirm if this case killed someone.

Bourbon virus was first discovered in 2014 in Bourbon County, Kan., but not much is known about the disease. There is no specific test for Bourbon virus, and identifying it requires additional testing by the Centers for Disease Control. No vaccine is available.

The virus is probably under-diagnosed because the symptoms are the same as any tick-transmitted disease. The two most common tick-borne diseases in Missouri are Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis.

"All of these tick-born illnesses start out similarly, with headache, fever, chills, sometimes nausea and vomiting and body aches," said Dr. John Brown, a Travel Medicine physician with Mercy Hospital. "So all of those symptoms, especially in the summertime and especially if you've been outdoors around ticks, are very suspicious for a tick-born illness."

Officials collecting and testing ticks near Sullivan will look for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis and Bourbon virus. Since all three of those viruses present similar symptoms, Brown said quick diagnosis and quick supportive care are important.

There are also things you can do to help prevent tick bites. First, be sure to use bug spray on your body. Brown says a product with at least a 30 percent concentration of DEET is recommended.

Second, take the time to pre-treat your clothing before going outdoors. For clothing, be sure to use a product with permethrin. Spray all your clothing, shoes and other accessories thoroughly on both sides. Allow the clothing to dry. The spray will be good for up to three or four washings, and the treated clothing can be washed with other items.

For an example on how to spray your clothing, watch Brown's demonstration in the video on this page.

For more information on Bourbon virus and for Consumer Report's list for the most effective bug sprays, click on the links in the "additional links" box on this page.


News release from Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo — The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has been notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that a Missouri resident has tested positive for Bourbon virus infection. The case did not involve any travel outside of the state, indicating that exposure occurred in Missouri. The Bourbon virus belongs to a group of viruses called Thogotoviruses. Based on genetic similarities to other Thogotoviruses, there is a possibility Bourbon virus is transmitted by ticks.

Not much is known about the virus since it was first discovered in 2014 in Bourbon County, Kan. DHSS staff, including local public health authorities, and the CDC are currently collecting ticks in Missouri for Bourbon virus testing. This will help to determine what the health risk is to people who are bitten by ticks. The CDC, with help from Missouri, Kansas and other states, is looking for additional patients who may be infected with the Bourbon virus. The investigation also involves laboratory scientists who are working to develop a test for the virus that can be used by doctors and laboratories.

Known symptoms of Bourbon virus include fever, headache, body aches, rash and fatigue. Most people have a full recovery from tick-borne disease. However, DHSS statistics indicate that people over age 50 and those with chronic health problems are more likely to develop a serious illness that can lead to complications.

Avoiding exposure to ticks is critical to the prevention of tick-borne disease. Beyond staying away from brushy areas and long grass where ticks hunt, the best practice to avoid tick bites is to use a repellent with a minimum of 20 percent DEET. Keeping lawns cut short and trimming shrubs and trees to increase sunlight can help make these areas less hospitable for ticks. People with outdoor pets should talk with their veterinarian about using an effective parasite prevention treatment.

In addition to preventing bites, prompt removal of ticks can help prevent disease:

• Using tweezers, grasp tick near its mouth and as close to your skin as possible.

• Pull tick firmly, straight out, away from skin. Do not jerk or twist the tick.

• Do NOT use alcohol, matches, liquid soap, or petroleum jelly to remove a tick.

• Wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water after the tick is removed. Apply an antiseptic to the bite site.

Bourbon virus testing is only available from CDC in certain circumstances and is still in the beginning stages of development. This means that testing must be approved by CDC, and other health conditions must be ruled out first. Providers with questions about Bourbon virus testing can contact DHSS at (573) 526-4780 or 800-392-0272 (24/7).

For more information on the prevention of illnesses that are carried by ticks, please see the CDC website:

End of news release