Last year, scientists got the chance to solve a medical mystery — well, at least half of it.
Two Missouri farmers came down with a strange illness in 2009. They had high fevers, diarrhea and nausea. Their platelet counts dropped dramatically.
Doctors thought it was a bacterial infection. But antibiotics didn’t help. So a quick-thinking physician at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Mo., sent the men’s blood to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When virologists looked at the samples under the microscope, they discovered a virus that no one had ever seen before. They named it the Heartland virus, in honor of its origin and the Midwest.
Both farmers eventually recovered from the illness. But a piece of the puzzle was still missing. How did the men catch the virus? Where did it come from?
Now entomologists at the CDC have filled in the blanks. The bug specialists have identified the Heartland virus in ticks at a farm and in a park in northwest Missouri, near where the two farmers live.
"It means the virus is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S. — and another reason to prevent getting bit," says the study’s lead author, Harry Savage.
The photo shows a dangerous trio (from left): a deer tick, lone star tick and dog tick. Photo by Getty Images.