The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced the discovery of a new virus—called the Bourbon virus—which is believed to have contributed to the spring 2014 death of a previously healthy man who lived in eastern Kansas. The virus is part of a group of viruses known as the thogotoviruses, which have been tied to ticks or mosquitoes in some parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. A case report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases explains the man’s illness and the discovery of the new virus.

“The Kansas man had received multiple tick bites in the days before becoming ill. After test results for many infectious diseases came back negative, a sample of the patient's blood was sent to CDC for additional testing,” the agency explained in a prepared statement. “Initial CDC testing showed evidence of an unidentified virus in the sample. CDC researchers then used Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) and determined that it was a new virus.”

This is the first time any virus from the thogotovirus group has caused known human illness in the United States, and the eighth known time a member of the thogotovirus family caused symptoms in people. The man, who was from Bourbon County, Kansas, received medical care and reported a history of tick bite, fatigue, and fever. He had thrombocytopenia and leukopenia, and was prescribed doxycycline because doctors presumed he had tickborne illness. The man’s condition worsened, including multiple organ failure, and he died of cardiopulmonary arrest 11 days after getting sick. Serologic and molecular test results for known tickborne illnesses were negative, but “testing of a specimen for antibodies against Heartland virus by using plaque reduction neutralization indicated the presence of another virus,” according to the case report. “Next-generation sequencing and phylogenetic analysis identified the virus as a novel member of the genus Thogotovirus.”

The Thogotovirus (family Orthomyxoviridae) group “contains >6 distinct viruses, including Araguari, Aransas Bay, Dhori, Jos, Thogoto, and Upolu viruses,” according to the case report. “These viruses have been primarily associated with either hard or soft ticks and have a wide geographic distribution. The only virus in this genus known to occur in the United States is Aransas Bay virus, which was isolated from soft ticks (Ornithodoros spp.) collected from a seabird nest off the coast of Texas.”

CDC is working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the University of Kansas Medical Center to look for more cases of Bourbon virus disease, in order to determine who becomes ill and what their symptoms are, and to try to figure out how people are getting infected with the virus. Additionally, “CDC experts will also be working in the lab to better understand the virus itself, how it makes people sick, and what animals (if any) may play a role in its spread. This information will help determine the best ways to potentially prevent and control Bourbon virus,” the agency said in a prepared statement.

With the newly identified Bourbon virus, the recent discoveries of the Heartland virus in Missouri, as well as severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome viruses in China, researchers at CDC believe more disease-causing viruses await discovery. “Use of AMD methods in laboratories across the world is an important tool for discovering and addressing new pathogens,” the agency explained.

Get more information about the Bourbon virus from CDC.