Ticks carrying rare virus found in several states

Ticks carrying a rare virus that can make humans sick have been found recently in six states, according to a study released Wednesday.

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The ticks found to be carrying the virus, called a lone star tick, were discovered in Georgia by researchers at Emory University. The ticks are common in Georgia and other states across the South and Midwest, but the ones found by the researchers were carrying a virus called the Heartland virus.

Heartland virus was first identified in Missouri in 2009. Soon after, it was also found in Alabama, Illinois, Kansas and New York.

Fifty cases of the virus have been reported since then, showing up in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We want to bring awareness rather than panic,” said Gonzalo M. Vazquez-Prokopec, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of environmental sciences at Emory. “People tend to go out more in the spring and they might get exposed to ticks, which are increasing rapidly, particularly in the South, this time of year.”

A bite from an infected tick can cause fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain.

Some people also have lower than normal counts of white blood cells and lower than normal counts of platelets when infected by the virus, according to the CDC. It can take up to two weeks for symptoms to appear after an infected tick bite.

While most people fully recover, in a few severe cases, older individuals with other medical conditions have died, according to the CDC.