Rare tick-borne disease confirmed in Illinois

Published: Aug. 14, 2019 at 3:49 PM CDT
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Beware of Lone Star ticks. They could be infected with a rare, but serious disease.

Last summer, a Kankakee County resident tested positive for Heartland virus, the first case reported in Illinois. As part of a study, ticks were collected from the area and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. The virus was detected in Lone Star ticks collected from Kankakee County.

Heartland virus was first identified in 2009 when two Missouri farmers, who had been bitten by ticks, were admitted to a hospital. Heartland virus is a viral disease that can be spread to people through the bite of an infected Lone Star tick.

Reported cases of Heartland virus disease are relatively rare; however, almost all patients had to be hospitalized. Although most people infected fully recover, a few have died. There are no vaccines to prevent Heartland virus infections.

Signs and symptoms of infection are similar to those of other tickborne diseases and can include fever, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and diarrhea. Most people have reported becoming sick about two weeks after being bitten by a tick

While there is no treatment, doctors can treat some of the symptoms. If you have been bitten by a tick and show symptoms, visit a health care provider.

Other tick-borne illnesses reported in Illinois include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and tularemia. Health care providers should consider Heartland virus in patients who have compatible symptoms and are not responding to other treatments.

Ticks are commonly found on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Lone Star ticks are found throughout Illinois. Ticks crawl, they cannot fly or jump.

Simple tips to avoid tick bites include:

• Wear light-colored, protective clothing—long-sleeved shirts, pants, boots or sturdy shoes, and a head covering. Treat clothing with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.

• Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE). For assistance selecting the appropriate insect repellent, see EPA’s helpful search tool.

• Walk in the center of trails so grass, shrubs, and weeds do not brush against you.

• Check yourself, children, other family members, and pets for ticks every two to three hours.

• Remove any tick promptly by grasping it with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pulling it straight out. Wash your hands and the tick bite site with soap and water.