When you spot a tick, you likely think of Lyme disease, but a new, lesser known virus has been spreading. In fact, the CDC recognizes 18 tick-borne diseases.
According to a new study from the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases published April 2022, a tick carrying the Heartland virus has been found circulating in at least six states, including Georgia. Spread through tick bites, the Heartland virus has flu-like symptoms and can result in hospitalization or death.
Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, PhD, the expert in vector-borne diseases at Emory University, states, "Heartland is an emerging infectious disease that is not well understood." He adds, "This study confirms the presence of the virus in Georgia and, more importantly, that it is being transmitted by the lone star tick, the most abundant tick species that bites humans in the state."
So far, 1 out of 2,000 specimens analyzed is seen to be infected with the Heartland virus. Researchers are quickly analyzing ticks and performing more studies to better understand this disease before the issue gets worse.
What is the lone star tick?
The lone star tick, known scientifically as Amblyomma americanum, is most commonly found in eastern, southern, and south-central states of the US. Over the last 20 or 30 years, their presence has been spreading, reaching as far north as Maine and as far west as Oklahoma and central Texas.
The diagram above shows the different stages of life of the lone star tick. Regardless of if you encounter a larva, nymph, or adult, each type of tick will feed on humans. These ticks also go after other animals in the household, including dogs and cats. In fact, your pet may bring these ticks home.
If you experience a rash or any flu-like symptom and suspect you were bitten, it's recommended you consult a medical professional immediately.
How to avoid tick bites
1. Beware of areas with a lot of ticks.
Ticks enjoy living in grassy, woody areas and also in animals. Be alert and aware if you spend time outside with your dog, go camping or hunting, or perform gardening.
2. Treat your clothing.
Products containing 0.5% permethrin can be used to treat clothes, including boots and camping gear. It's wise to bring treatment with you, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time outdoors in the woods. Alternatively, you can also wear permethrin-treated clothing or buy treated gear.
3. Shower soon after outdoor recreation.
Showering within 2 hours of outdoor activity dramatically reduces risk of getting a tick-borne disease.