The weather is warming and many of us are starting to motivate ourselves to come out of hibernation. With the warmth of spring comes outdoor activities with our friends and families, but those outdoor activities are not without risk.

The Insidious Outdoor Nuisance

You may be an avid outdoorsman (or woman) who enjoys hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing or you may much prefer spending your outdoor time tending to your garden or grilling in the backyard.

Whatever the case may be, there is a small and insidious danger lurking about that most anyone who has spent time outdoors is familiar with - the tick. Of course, across the midwest, there are a number of tick species. The most common and perhaps most well-known is the black-legged tick, often referred to as the deer tick.

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Close up Macro of Deer Tick Crawling on Straw


More Than a Nuisance: Ticks Can Cause Severe Illness

Infected Deer ticks carry the most prevalent vector-borne virus, Lyme Disease. A vector-borne illness is one that is transmitted through the bite of blood-sucking anthropods like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.

Remember the Bubonic Plague?

Other commonly known vector-borne viruses include West Nile Virus, malaria, and Zika virus and as it turns out, the Bubonic plague was also a vector-borne disease. Although, there is a common misconception that the plague was transmitted by rats.

While not entirely untrue, the Bubonic plague was more specifically carried to humans through the bites from infected fleas that hitched rides on rats. According to the World Health Organization,

Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700 000 deaths annually. They can be caused by either parasites, bacteria or viruses.

Tick bite


The Heartland Virus Can Be Deadly

As it turns out, Lyme Disease is not the only tick-borne illness that we have to worry about in this part of the country. There is a newer virus, known as the Heartland virus that was first found as the cause of illness in a person in Missouri back in 2009, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Positive Cases Found Across the Midwest

Unfortunately, the Heartland virus is spreading. While the Centers for Disease Control have not updated their statistics since January 2021, they say that the virus has reportedly caused illness in more than 50 people in a dozen states, including Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. It has even been responsible for a few deaths.

As of January 2021, Heartland virus disease cases have been identified in residents from the following states: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Lone star or seed tick on finger

How Is It Transmitted?

As a vector-borne illness, the Heartland Virus is transmitted to humans when they are bitten by an infected Lone Star Tick. However, at this time it is not known if the disease can be transmitted by other tick species, or if there are other non-vector-borne avenues of transmission.

Symptoms of The Heartland Virus

Those infected with the Heartland Virus experience a number of symptoms similar to other tick-borne illnesses. According to the CDC,

Most people infected with Heartland virus experience fever, fatigue (feeling tired), decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain. Many are hospitalized because of their symptoms.


Some people also have lower than normal counts of white blood cells (cells that help fight infections) and lower than normal counts of platelets (which help clot blood).


They also say that liver enzyme testing may show increased levels of liver enzymes in patients infected with the Heartland Virus.

The tick bites the person

Preventing the Heartland Virus

Two of the known cases of the Heartland Virus were found in Southern Indiana, but according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the best way to avoid infection of the Heartland Virus is to avoid being bitten by ticks. Indiana DNR recommends that those spending time outdoors practice the following precautions,

Reapply insect repellent according to the product instructions.
Avoid grassy, brushy, or wooded areas when possible.
Walk in the center of marked trails in order to avoid brushing against tall grass and plants.
Check clothing and skin frequently for ticks.

It is also recommended that you shower after returning indoors. You also will want to check your body for any hitchhiking ticks and it is also a good idea to toss your clothes into the dryer as the heat will kill any ticks that may be wandering around on your garments.

tick insect warning sign in forest

The Bottom Line

If you are going to spend time outdoors, take every precaution to protect yourself from being bitten by ticks and be diligent once you come back home to avoid spreading ticks to your family or pets.

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