SOUTHERN INDIANA — In the last two years, two cases of a rare infection thought to be caused by tick bites have appeared in Southern Indiana, state health officials announced yesterday.
The Heartland virus, which can cause a fever with flu-like symptoms, as well as a decrease in blood cells that are important in blood clotting and fighting, has affected two regional residents, although officials did not say where in Southern Indiana they were from.
The Southern Indiana residents who contracted the Heartland virus survived their infections. The virus often requires hospitalization.
The state received their information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Heartland virus was first described in 2012, according to the CDC. Only a small number of cases have been detected nationally, according to an Indiana State Department of Health news release. They have been found in Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas — and now — Indiana. Studies suggest that the virus is spread by the lone star tick, which is found through the southeastern and eastern United States, including Indiana and Kentucky.
The CDC reports that patients diagnosed with the virus have become sick between May and September. Only one out of eight patients had died from the disease as of March 2014. Another death was reported in 2015.
In 2016, Indiana reported more than 200 cases of tick-borne illness. Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are all examples of tick-borne diseases found in Indiana.
Ticks are found throughout Indiana in grassy and wooded areas.
“Tick bites can cause serious illness and even death, and the discovery of Heartland virus gives Hoosiers another important reason to take precautions,” State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams said in a statement.
The state department of health recommends that Hoosiers reduce their risk of tick bites by doing the following:
• 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 percent permethrin to clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents
After outdoor activities, people should conduct full-body tick checks using a hand-held or full-length mirror. Children should be assisted when performing tick checks.
Showering or bathing can help remove unattached ticks. Pets, coats and day packs 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.
Attached ticks can be safely removed by using tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and pulling outward with steady and even pressure. After the tick is removed, the area should be washed thoroughly. The tick should be discarded by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet. Ticks should not be crushed with the fingernails.