A mysterious illness that seems to have killed a farmer in Kansas has led to the discovery of a new virus last week: the Bourbon virus.
The farmer had been working on his field last spring when he got several tick bites, including one that appeared to be attached to his shoulder. A few days later, he got sick. First, there was nausea, weakness, and diarrhea. Then came the flu-like symptoms: loss of appetite, chills, fever, a headache.
The man went to get help from his doctor, who presumed his patient had another tick-borne illness, Ehrlichiosis. But even with medication, the farmer's condition rapidly deteriorated. One morning, when his wife could barely rouse him in his bed, the farmer was rushed to hospital, and from there, got even worse: his kidneys and lungs failed, he went into shock, and within 11 days, he was dead.
All the tests to look for tick-borne illnesses and a range of other disease-causing viruses and bacteria turned up negative. Even scarier, until this bout, the man had been perfectly healthy.
Now, public health officials think a new tick-borne bug is to blame. The virus, described in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, has been named "Bourbon" after Bourbon County, Kansas, where the man lived.
There's still a lot to learn about this new pathogen, and scientists only seldom find new viruses that cause illnesses in humans. So we called Dr. Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist located in Fort Collins, Colorado who co-published the report, to find out what we know and don't know about Bourbon.

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