ATLANTA — A potentially deadly new virus is circulating among ticks in Georgia, according to scientists at Emory University.
The Heartland virus was first identified in Missouri in 2009 and made two people severely ill.
A new study published Wednesday in the academic journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found the virus circulating among Georgia’s most common tick, known as the lone star tick.
More than 50 cases of the virus have been identified in 11 states in the Midwest and Southeast since 2019.
According to the study, most cases of the virus were found in people who had pre-existing conditions, and their illnesses were “predominately severe or fatal.”
The symptoms of Heartland virus are fever, weakness, headaches, muscle pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, joint pain, low white blood cell count and easy bruising due to a low platelet count.
The study revealed that a retroactive analysis confirmed that the Heartland virus, which hadn’t been identified yet, killed a Baldwin County resident in 2005.
“We’re trying to get ahead of this virus by learning everything that we can about it before it potentially becomes a bigger problem,” the study’s senior author, Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, said.
The study focused on ticks in the central part of the state and was conducted from 2018 to 2019. The warm, humid climate and abundant foliage in the Southeast make the are a prime breeding ground for ticks.
“Ticks are everywhere in Georgia,” Vazquez-Prokopec said.
Vazquez-Prokopec said that the purpose of the research is not to alarm people, but to raise awareness of ticks’ potential threat to human health.