Tick-Borne Heartland Virus Claims Life Of First Oklahoman

Tuesday, May 27th 2014, 10:26 pm

A tick bite claims the life of a Green Country man. The death is the first of its kind in Oklahoma, caused by a new tick-borne disease called Heartland Virus, which was just discovered four years ago.

Since its discovery, the Heartland Virus has killed two people and infected eight others; and of course, the more you're outdoors, the more you're at risk.

They may be small, but a tick's bite can come with big consequences.

"They can cause a lot of damage," said Dr. Kathryn Zackery with the Sapulpa Indian Health Center.

It's in the spring and summertime that Zackery says her Sapulpa patients start showing up with symptoms that could stem from a tick bite.

"We saw cases several times per week last summer," she said.

It looks like she'll be seeing more of the same this summer. Already, Zackery says several patients have tested positive for Oklahoma's common tick-borne illness, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but what she hasn't seen yet is a case of the Heartland Virus.

"A tick crawls on you, and then it bites you, and it spreads the bacteria and that's how you get the disease," she said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says a Delaware County man, older than 65, died from complications of the virus, which is believed to be spread by the Lone Star tick.

The department says the man had a history of recent tick bites and spent a lot of time outside.

Until now, the disease was only known in Missouri and Tennessee. Its victims so far; all white men all over the age of 50.

The symptoms include fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, bruising easily and diarrhea.

There are no vaccines to keep us from getting tick-borne diseases, so our best line of defense is prevention. If you're going to be outside, put on insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and when you get home, make sure to check for any ticks or tick bites.

If you feel sick after you've been bitten by a tick, you need to let your doctor know. That's the only way they'll know to test you.

"It's here in Oklahoma now, then we need to look into it for sure," Zackery said.

The Health Department says there are no drugs to treat the Heartland Virus. It's so new tests to help doctors diagnose the disease are still being developed.

It's hard for experts to say what the exact long-term effects are, but doctors say with other tick-borne illnesses, severe headaches and neurological issues are common if not treated.