Another Tick Threat: Heartland Virus Kills Georgia Man

The Lone Star tick strikes again, bringing with it another disease that could be fatal.

Mike Bolton | April 2, 2022

A tick-borne virus relatively new to Georgia has taken the life of a Baldwin County man, officials confirm. The officials did not identify the man. 

The virus, called the Heartland virus, hospitalizes many of those infected. Emory University Associate Professor Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, who has studied the virus since it was discovered in 2009, said that “for those individuals with some health conditions, (the virus) can be lethal,” he said.

Officials with the CDC said that the Heartland virus has been found to be active in Lone Star ticks in Georgia. 

There are no vaccines or medications to prevent or treat the Heartland virus, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

The news is no doubt unnerving for Georgia hunters, fishermen and anyone else who spends time outdoors. Anyone else who comes into contact with ticks on wildlife and pets are also at risk.

CDC officials said most people infected with Heartland virus experience fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea and muscle or joint pain. Some of those infected also have lower than normal counts of white blood cells (cells that help fight infections) and lower than normal counts of platelets (which help clot blood). It can take up to two weeks for symptoms to appear after an infected tick bite.

Officials with the CDC said that the Heartland virus has been found to be active in Lone Star ticks in this state. Researchers at Emory University and the University of Georgia sampled nearly 10,000 ticks from central Georgia and found that about 1 in 2,000 ticks had the virus. The plan is to continue testing ticks statewide.

The CDC says that about 50 cases of the Heartland virus have been confirmed in the states where the virus has been found. Vazquez-Prokopec and other researchers suspect there have been many more cases that were mild or moderate that never got diagnosed.

“The best we can do is to protect ourselves against tick bites until we have a better idea of how serious it is,” he said.

Since being discovered in Missouri in 2009, the virus has spread to Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and now Georgia. The Heartland virus, unlike the COVID virus which can be passed by breathing, is transmitted by blood. 

The Lone Star tick is already on many outdoorsmen’s radar as its bite can trigger a number of problems.  Those problems include alpha-gal syndrome. Alpha-gal syndrome is a food allergy to red meat including beef, pork, lamb and venison. In severe cases, alpha-gal syndrome can make just smelling bacon cooking trigger such problems as anaphylactic shock. That is a potentially fatal reaction where blood pressure suddenly drops and airways narrow making normal breathing impossible. Even less severe cases can result in fever, headache, fatigue and muscle and joint pain.

Red Meat Allergy: Life-Changing Illness From Tick Bite

Lone Star Ticks are the most common tick to be found attached to humans in the eastern United States. They are commonly found on deer, other wildlife and pets. They are very aggressive and can move three times faster than most other ticks. The worst time for the ticks in Georgia is from spring through summer and fall. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips:

Know where to expect ticks: Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas and on animals. Hunting, fishing, walking your dog, camping and gardening can put you in close contact with ticks. 

Treat clothing and gear: Use EPA-approved insect repellants on your clothes and gear.

After coming indoors, check your clothing for ticks: Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing. Any ticks that are found should be removed. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks.

Shower soon after coming indoors: Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce the risk of getting tickborne diseases. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.

Check your body for ticks after being outdoors: Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your own backyard. Check under the arms, in and around the ears, the back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs and around the waist.

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  1. freddyd on April 4, 2022 at 11:03 am

    It is wise to save the tick to be tested if it was attached to you. Google tick test, State Of Georgia. Ticks will be bad this year.

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