New 'Bourbon Virus' Blamed for Kansas Man's Death

PHOTO: A wood tick is seen in this undated photo. Getty Images
A wood tick is seen in this undated photo.

A new tick-borne virus has been discovered in Kansas and dubbed the "Bourbon virus."

The never-before-seen virus was named for Bourbon County, Kansas, where its only known victim lived. The man got sick over the summer and died, and it's taken six months for doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital as well as state and national epidemiologists to solve the mystery of his death.

"Its genome is similar to viruses that have been found in eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, but no virus like that has ever been identified in the western hemisphere," University of Kansas Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Dana Hawkinson said in a video prepared last week by the hospital.

Hawkinson said even similar viruses found elsewhere rarely cause illness to humans and animals.

The illness is similar to another tick-borne illness called the heartland virus, which is also passed via tick bites, in that they both cause fever and malaise. But unlike heartland, Bourbon virus also boasts anorexia as a symptom.

"They just feel bad, and they don't really feel like eating," Hawkinson said.

Muscle aches, elevated liver enzymes and damaged blood platelets are other symptoms, he said.

Hawkinson said finding the cause of the patient's death has been "frustrating."

"We just couldn't answer questions for the family and ourselves as to why this was happening to this gentleman," he said.

Hawkinson and his colleagues worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to solve the mystery after the patient died.

Ticks cause more than a dozen different illnesses in the United States, but many of them -- including Lyme disease -- are bacterial, according to the CDC. But because this disease is viral, the standard antibiotic treatment doesn't work, Hawkinson said.

Tips to avoid tick-borne illnesses include avoiding tall grass, using insect repellent containing DEET outdoors, conducting full-body "tick checks" and avoiding sleeping next to dogs, according to a state health department statement.