CDC: Two Indiana patients in last two years had rare Heartland virus

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Indiana health officials announced Tuesday that two cases of Heartland virus infection over the last two years have been confirmed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says both of the patients survived the infections.

The recently-discovered virus is believed to be transmitted by ticks. The most common symptoms are flu-like, including fever and a decrease in blood cells which fight infections and help clot blood.

According to the CDC, only a few cases have been detected across the U.S., including in Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Most of the cases required hospitalization, but exact numbers were not provided.

“Tick bites can cause serious illness and even death, and the discovery of Heartland virus gives Hoosiers another important reason to take precautions,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. “If you become ill after spending time outdoors, visit your health care provider immediately — especially if you found an attached tick. Prompt diagnosis of tick-borne illness helps prevent complications.”

Health officials say Indiana ticks tend to be most active during late spring and early summer, particularly in grassy and wooded areas. Other tick-borne diseases found in Indiana include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

More than 200 cases of tick-borne illnesses were reported in Indiana in 2016.

Here are a few tips from the Indiana Department of Health to reduce the risk of a tick bite:

  • Avoiding direct contact with ticks by staying away from wooded and brushy areas and walking in the center of trails
  • Using EPA-registered insect repellents with active ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Applying products containing 0.5% permethrin to clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents

After doing activities outdoors, Hoosiers should do a full-body tick check using a mirror. Pets, coats, and bags should also be checked for unattached ticks. Tumbling dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 20 minutes will kill unattached ticks on clothing.

Ticks that are attached to a person can be removed by using tweezers to grab it close to the skin and pull it outward with steady, even pressure. After removal, the area should be washed. The tick can be discarded by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed container, wrapping it with tape or flushing it down a toilet.

Officials say you should never crush a tick with your hands or fingernails.