Heartland Virus Disease

Heartland virus is an infection people get from being bitten by an infected tick. Only certain regions of the United States have confirmed cases of the virus. It causes flu-like symptoms, which can be severe. There currently isn’t a medication to treat, or a vaccine to prevent, Heartland virus.


What is Heartland virus?

The Heartland virus is a disease that spreads to people through a tick bite. The virus belongs to a family of viruses called phleboviruses. Studies show that bites from an infected Lone Star tick (amblyomma americanum) cause Heartland virus. But some experts believe mosquitos and other tick species can also spread the virus to humans. Researchers are still learning more about this relatively new virus.

The virus causes flu-like symptoms that can become serious. Most people with Heartland virus go to the hospital for IV fluids and supportive care for pain or fever. There are currently no medicines to treat Heartland virus. The best thing to do is take precautions in areas where ticks are known to carry the virus, especially in spring and summer when ticks are more likely to bite.

How common is Heartland virus?

It’s rare. As of November 2022, about 60 cases of Heartland virus have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). States with reported cases include:

  • Missouri (the first state to report Heartland virus in 2009).
  • Arkansas.
  • Georgia.
  • Iowa.
  • Indiana.
  • Illinois.
  • Kansas.
  • Kentucky.
  • New York.
  • North Carolina.
  • Oklahoma.
  • Pennsylvania.
  • Tennessee.
  • Virginia.

Most people who get the virus become sick in the late spring and summer when ticks are most active.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of Heartland virus?

Most people show signs of the virus within two weeks of getting bit by a tick, but some have symptoms as early as a few days after. Symptoms of Heartland virus include:

  • Fever.
  • Tiredness.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Muscle or joint aches.
  • Nausea or diarrhea.

These symptoms are like other tick-borne illnesses like ehrlichiosis or anaplasmosis.

How long do Heartland virus symptoms last?

There isn’t a set time for how long people show signs or symptoms of Heartland virus. In mild cases, people may have symptoms for a few weeks. More severe cases may last months. Almost all people who get the virus end up in the hospital for IV fluids and other treatment to help with their symptoms.

What causes Heartland virus?

Researchers are still learning how people get this virus. They are almost certain that Lone Star ticks carry it and pass it to people when they bite them. Other species of ticks may also be carriers. Researchers think ticks get the virus after sucking blood from infected animals like deer or raccoons.

How does Heartland virus spread?

Heartland virus is thought to spread by infected ticks. When a person is bitten by a tick with the virus, the person becomes infected.

What are the risk factors for this condition?

People who live in or visit states in the Midwestern, Northeastern and Southern United States should be extra cautious about avoiding tick bites. People who spend a lot of time outside are the most at risk for tick bites, as they’re exposed more often than people who spend time indoors.


What are the complications of this condition?

The Heartland virus becomes serious for most people, causing hospitalization for dehydration, pain and fever. Most people fully recover from the virus. But there have been a few deaths.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do you know if you have Heartland virus?

There isn’t one official test that healthcare providers use to diagnose Heartland virus. But your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and order tests to help them determine the cause of your symptoms. It also helps them rule out other infections caused by a tick or other insect.

Your provider will ask you about:

  • Your symptoms.
  • When you first began feeling sick.
  • Your exposure to ticks, especially if you live in or visit areas where the Lone Star tick lives.
  • Any known tick bites.

Your provider may also order blood tests that look at your:


Management and Treatment

How do you treat Heartland virus?

There isn’t a medication that treats the virus. Antibiotics and antivirals don’t work on Heartland virus. Your healthcare provider may recommend you go to the hospital for IV fluids and medications for pain, fever or other symptoms. Other things you can do for treatment include:

  • Get lots of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen.


How can I lower my risk of Heartland virus?

As there isn’t a vaccine to prevent the virus and no medication to treat it, avoiding tick bites is the only way to reduce your risk of getting Heartland virus. Some tips for preventing tick bites include:

  • Use insect repellant sprays when you’re outside.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants and a hat to cover more of your skin. Ticks are easier to see on clothing.
  • Avoid wooded areas or areas with a lot of bushes and tall grass.
  • Check your body for ticks daily if you spend time outdoors.
  • Check your pet for ticks as pets can carry ticks, too.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on boots, clothes, and camping gear to protect against ticks.

Remember, ticks are most active in spring and summer. Take extra care to prevent tick bites in April through September. If you’re unsure if you live in an area with Heartland virus, contact your state’s Department of Health for more information.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long do you have Heartland virus?

That depends on your symptoms. If they’re severe, they may last for several months. But most people feel better within a few weeks or months.

What is the fatality rate for Heartland virus?

Of the known cases of the virus in the United States, two of those cases resulted in death.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Contact a healthcare provider if you have flu-like symptoms and believe you’ve been bit by a tick. Your healthcare provider can order tests to check for Heartland virus and other viral infections that cause similar symptoms.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Heartland virus is a relatively new virus and researchers are still learning more about it. It can cause serious flu-like symptoms that require hospitalization. As there aren’t any drugs to treat Heartland virus and no vaccines to prevent it, avoiding ticks is the best way to protect yourself. Take extra precautions by using bug spray and checking yourself for ticks daily, especially if you live in or visit an area where ticks are known to carry Heartland virus. Contact a healthcare provider if you begin feeling unwell and develop flu-like symptoms.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/20/2023.

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