Bourbon Virus: New Tick-Borne Virus Linked To The Death Of A Kansas Man

Bourbon Virus
Newly discovered tick-borne illness causes the death of a man in Kansas. CC by 2.0, Franziska Bauer

Following the death of a man in Kansas, infectious disease experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment struggled to uncover the mysterious illness that led to the victim’s untimely death. Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital have now announced that a new tick-borne virus, dubbed “Bourbon Virus” after Bourbon County, Kan., where it was first discovered, caused the man’s death.

"Bourbon virus has likely been around for some time, but only recently did we have the diagnostic techniques to isolate and identify such viruses," Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the Unviersity of Kansas Hospital, said in a statement.

According to the CDC, the United States is home to a variety of tick-borne illnesses, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Q fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia. The most common tick-borne illness in the U.S. is Lyme disease. Over 22,500 confirmed and 7,500 probable Lyme disease cases were reported to the CDC in 2010.

The man came to doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital last summer with symptoms consistent with most tick-borne illnesses, including high fever, severe headache, muscle aches, and nausea. After his condition was unresponsive to typical treatments, he eventually experienced multi-organ failure and passed away. Six months after the man’s death, doctors have now determined Bourbon Virus to be the cause. Since there is no vaccine for Bourbon Virus, doctors have advised the public to avoid being bitten by a tick.

Experts say Bourbon Virus is comparable to another tick-borne illness known as heartland virus. Heartland virus was first discovered back in 2012, and as of March 2014 eight cases have been identified among residents of Missouri and Tennessee. Although most patients who were hospitalized as a result of their condition eventually recovered, one did die. Similar to Bourbon Virus, doctors say the only way to contract heartland virus is via a bite from a mosquito, tick, or sandfly. 

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