Missouri Woman Died From Tick-Borne Bourbon Virus—Should We Be Worried?

Close Up Of An Adult Female And Nymph Tick Is Shown June 15 2001 On A Fingertip Ticks
Getty Images | Getty Images

Tamela Wilson, 58, had worked at a state park for over a decade. She was used to the outdoors and the bugs that came with the territory.

So when she found two ticks on her body in May of this year, she wasn’t especially worried. She plucked them off (learn the right way to remove a tick) and thought no more of it. Unfortunately, she contracted Bourbon virus, a tick-borne disease, that would ultimately kill her.


According to the CDC, Bourbon virus is very rare. There have been fewer than 12 documented cases around the world.

“As of June 27, 2017, a limited number of Bourbon virus disease cases have been identified in the Midwest and southern United States,” the CDC says. “At this time, we do not know if the virus might be found in other areas of the United States.”

The problem with Bourbon virus is that its symptoms are varied and easily attributable to other diseases. Symptoms can include everything from fevers, exhaustion, body aches, nausea and vomiting to more serious issues such as low blood counts “for cells that fight infection and help prevent bleeding,” the CDC says.

Wilson began feeling ill and went to her primary care physician shortly after being bit. But she was sent away, diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and armed with antibiotics. Unfortunately, because the Bourbon virus is just that—a virus—antibiotics won’t help.

Unsurprisingly, the antibiotics didn’t work, and Wilson became sicker.

“She literally couldn’t even pick up her phone. She had no strength,” Wilson’s daughter, Amie May, told CBS News in an interview. “My sister had been calling her and couldn’t get a hold of her. My mom said the phone was right there ringing, but she could not pick it up to answer it.”

Eventually, the mom of three was admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, but tests revealed nothing.

Liz Graesser/Wikipedia

Finally, Wilson had a blood sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirmed Bourbon virus. By then, it was too late. There is no known treatment for the virus, and Wilson’s health was declining rapidly. 

Wilson—a grandmother of nine—died on June 23, just a few weeks after she was admitted to the hospital. Now, her family is trying to ensure that everyone knows how to protect themselves from ticks this summer.

“I didn’t really give much attention to a tick bite. You get a bite, pull it out and go about your business,” May said. “You don’t think about complications coming from a tick bite. As far as I know, other tick-borne diseases are treatable. That’s what’s scary about this one — you don’t know if you’re gonna make it or not.”

tick bite photo
Flickr | fairfaxcounty

Wilson had worked at Meramac State Park in Sullivan, Missouri, which is about 70 miles outside of St. Louis.

Meramec State Park

Disease & Illness, Health, News
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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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