Ticks in Illinois found to have Heartland virus

A Kankakee County resident tested positive for Heartland Virus last summer.

Fred Bodimer
August 15, 2019 - 4:42 pm
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(KMOX) — The Illinois Department of Public Health reports Lone Star ticks bearing the Heartland Virus have been found in parts of the state. 

It took awhile to get the results, but the Illinois Department of Public Health now says a Kankakee County resident tested positive for Heartland Virus last summer — the first case reported in Illinois.

Heartland Virus was first identified in 2009 when two Missouri farmers who had been bitten were admitted to a hospital. The bites from the Lone Star Tick can result in multiple types of infections and can cause serious illness in some people.   

"The Heartland Virus is a relatively rare virus," said SSM Health family medicine physician Dr. Jennifer Wessels. "It is pretty common in the Midwest. It can cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches, sometimes fever."

The Illinois Department of Public Health says almost all individuals with Heartland virus have been hospitalized.  Although most people have fully recovered, a few have died.  There are no vaccines to prevent Heartland virus infections. 

So what can we do to avoid the bite of a Lone Star tick — or any tick for that matter?

"Avoiding tick bites is very similar to what we do to avoid mosquito bites or any insect bites," Dr. Wessels tells KMOX. "Wearing long sleeves and long pants can help.  Avoid walking through heavily wooded areas when you are unprotected or you know there are ticks in the area.  If you are outside, have a friend help check your skin for insect or tick bites.  And if you do think you've had a tick bite, getting in to see your doctor quickly can be really beneficial."  

Simple tips to avoid tick bites from the Illinois Department of Public Health 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.

Additional information about ticks can be found on the IDPH website. A map of the geographical location of Heartland virus cases is also available on the CDC website.

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