An otherwise healthy man in Kansas became infected with a newly discovered type of virus after he was bitten by ticks, and he died of a related illness 11 days later, U.S. health officials reported Friday.
The virus -- dubbed "Bourbon virus" after the name of the Kansas county where the man lived -- has never been spotted in the United States before, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency noted that more cases may have occurred but gone unidentified.
The CDC said it's now collaborating with researchers in Kansas "to identify additional cases of Bourbon virus disease, determine who gets sick and with what symptoms, and how people are getting infected."
According to a report led by CDC investigator Olga Kosoy, the unidentified man was under the age of 50 and previously healthy. He had been working on his property and was bitten by ticks several times in late spring 2014.
The man also "found an engorged tick on his shoulder several days before he became ill with nausea, weakness and diarrhea," the researchers wrote.
He arrived via ambulance at a hospital with fever, elevated blood pressure and a rash on his torso. Blood tests revealed low counts of various blood cell types, which was later traced to unhealthy "bone marrow suppression."
Doctors initially prescribed the antibiotic doxycycline, but the man's condition continued to deteriorate, with fever and loss of appetite setting in.
Nine days after admission to the hospital, he had trouble breathing and was put on oxygen support. Organ failure began to occur and the man died 11 days after arriving at the hospital, the report said.
While the researchers could not confirm that Bourbon virus caused the man's death, the high levels of virus found in his blood samples suggested it played a key role.
The CDC team noted that the newly found virus is one from a family of germs called Thogotoviruses, "which have been linked to [transmission by] ticks and mosquitoes in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa."
The agency said its experts will "be working in the lab to better understand the virus itself, how it makes people sick, and what animals [if any] may play a role in its spread."
The research team added that this isn't the first new tick-borne virus to emerge in recent years. A pathogen known as Heartland virus has been identified in Missouri and another virus causing very high fever has been identified in China.
CDC experts hope the new report will alert doctors to the existence of this virus, and its possible role in future illnesses.
As always, tick bite prevention is a person's best defense. The CDC researchers said, "Persons should be advised to avoid tick bites by using an insect repellent registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be effective against ticks."
Anyone walking in tick-infested areas should also be "wearing long sleeves and pants, avoiding bushy and wooded areas, and performing tick checks after spending time outdoors," they added.
The report was published online Feb. 20 in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.