A few years ago, a farmer from Bourbon County, Kansas ended up at the University of Kansas Hospital with an unknown disease. His organs were failing and doctors weren’t sure why. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital, suspected a tick-borne illness. Doctors tried everything they could think of to treat the man, but after 10 days, his lungs failed and his blood pressure collapsed.
Hawkinson remembers, “We didn’t have an answer for the longest time as to why is he not getting better? What is causing this? Nothing that we’re doing is seeming to help even though we’re going to the nth degree to try and give him supportive care and give him active care to try and get him better.”
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined a sample of the man’s blood, they found a new pathogen, similar to overseas illnesses spread by ticks and mosquitoes. The CDC named the the illness “Bourbon virus.”
Three years have passed since the Bourbon virus was discovered and it still remains much of a mystery. A second case was reported in Oaklahoma about a year after the first. Hawkinson believed that other cases may have gone undiagnosed. “I can’t give you a specific number, but certainly cases where people were ill and we think it looks like one sort of disease, but it isn’t, and they end up recovering or they die and that’s what it truly is.”
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