Lyme, West Nile, Zika, the list of insect-borne illnesses to worry about seems to get longer, and scarier, every year. Now, a new disease in our area has doctors dumbfounded.
A mother-of-one has died of a tick-borne illness that is un-treatable and fatal. It has only ever affected five people in the United States.
Tamela Wilson, 58, was at work in Missouri’s Meramec State Park in May when she noticed two ticks lodged in her body.
She removed them and carried on with her day as assistant park superintendent.
Within days, she became lethargic, with a fever and nausea. Doctors were baffled and diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection, sending her home with antibiotics.
But a week later, on May 31, her condition plummeted and she was admitted to hospital, where blood tests revealed she had Bourbon virus, a rare and untreatable condition that first emerged in 2014.
She spent weeks in intensive care, with doctors struggling to curb the disease – as she also developed pneumonia and hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a condition which makes immune cells mutate.
On June 23, she died.
Distraught, her family members described the excruciating pain Tamela suffered in her final weeks.
‘You wouldn’t want this for your worst enemy,’ her stepmother Kathy Potter told Fox 6 News. ‘It makes you fearful of going outside.’
Tamela’s father, Geoff, added: ‘The doctors were beside themselves. They said it’s a medical mystery.
‘Every day we’d go to the hospital and she’d get worse. No improvement.’
Bourbon virus has only been seen in five Americans to date, all in the Midwest and Southern parts of the US.
The first US case involved a 68-year-old man in Kansas, John Seested, who died two weeks after being bitten by a tick.
Before his diagnosis, there had only been eight incidents worldwide – all in Europe, Asia or Africa.
The virus is a type of thogotovirus, but it acts very differently.
Usually, thogotoviruses lead to meningitis, which inflames the lining of the brain. However, Bourbon virus attacks and destroys white blood cells at an alarming rate.
There is no treatment or vaccine.
Instead, the CDC urges people to use insect repellents, wear long sleeves and pants, avoid bushy and wooded areas, and to perform thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors.
Tamela’s case is the first reported in Missouri. It comes as the state battles an outbreak of Ehrlichiosis, a severe flu-like condition transmitted by ticks.