An Oklahoma man has died after acquiring the Heartland virus, making him the second person in the U.S. to die after coming down with the illness, state health officials said Tuesday.
The state Department of Health released few details but said the man was from Delaware County in northeast Oklahoma, was over the age of 65 and died recently from complications of the virus, which is found in the lone star tick and is likely spread through tick bites. The virus was first identified in 2009, in Missouri.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the other patient who died after acquiring the virus had other health conditions. The CDC did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking more information late Tuesday.
Other cases have been diagnosed in Missouri and Tennessee, but those patients recovered. Like previous cases, the Oklahoma victim had a history of outdoor activities and exposure, said Becky Coffman, an epidemiologist in acute disease with the Oklahoma Health Department.
Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, bruising easily and diarrhea. There is no vaccine or drug to prevent or treat the illness.
Coffman said people who become ill after spending a lot of time outdoors should disclose to physicians if they have a history of tick bites to help reach a correct diagnosis. The incubation period before the onset of symptoms of the Heartland virus is unknown, but symptoms caused by other tick-borne illnesses generally begin two weeks after infection, Coffman said.
"We need to help doctors," she said. "We need to give them as much information as we can to give them some clues."
Coffman said campers and others who spend a lot of time outdoors should check themselves "at least daily" for ticks.
Although there is no routine testing available for Heartland virus, protocols are in place for investigational diagnostic testing. The state Health Department recommends using insect repellents, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors, avoiding bushy and wooded areas where ticks thrive, and conducting thorough tick checks after spending time outside.