Nearly three months have passed since the death of Tamela Wilson from complications related to the Bourbon virus and there are still no answers as to where she may have contracted the rare virus.
Shortly after Wilson’s Bourbon virus diagnosis on June 22, it was determined she was bitten by a tick somewhere near her home in Meramec State Park near Sullivan.
After her death, tick samples were collected in the park.
Sara O’Connor with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said the ticks collected this summer are still being analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control.
“Official results may not be available until well into October,” O’Connor said. “The exact number of ticks tested may not be available because the ticks are “pooled” in groups for testing. The size of the pool is dependent on the type of tick (seed tick, deer tick, etc).”
The ticks were collected using a flagging technique.
White flags made of a felt material are waved in the weeds and tall grass areas where ticks are known to live.
As the fabric brushes by the ticks they attach themselves to it and are then picked off and sorted by species, gender and age.
According to the CDC, as of June 27, 2017, a limited number of Bourbon virus disease cases have been identified in the Midwest and southern United States.
Because of its rarity, the total number of confirmed cases of the virus is listed between five and eight people.
Some people who have been infected later died. At this time, the CDC does not know if the virus might be found in other areas of the United States.
Since news of the virus broke on July 4, Wilson and her family were thrust into the national spotlight as more light was being shed on this rare, potentially killer tick-borne illness.
All that has quickly changed.
Although she doesn’t want to rush the testing and understands it takes time, Wilson’s daughter Amie May says the phone has stopped ringing.
“We haven’t heard from anybody about anything,” May said. “Not a thing.”
Two seed ticks were removed from Wilson’s hip shortly after the Memorial Day weekend.
Wilson quickly became ill and visited her primary care doctor in Sullivan, who diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection and prescribed antibiotics.
Two or three days later she wasn’t feeling any better. Blood tests showed her platelets and white blood cell count was low and she was sent to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis on May 31.
Wilson was immediately admitted and told the doctors she had been bitten by a tick.
She developed a light rash, mostly on her extremities at first, then it got much worse.
Doctors first thought Wilson had Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Heartland virus, and were going to send some of her blood to the CDC for further testing.
On June 11, positive tests for Bourbon virus came back.
Soon after, Wilson began to have complications with her bone marrow, liver, lungs and the rash became so bad she couldn’t talk, eat or even swallow.
Wilson had abnormal enzymes and was diagnosed with pneumonia and just before she died doctors began treating her for Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life-threatening immunodeficiency related to white blood cell irregularities.
A second test for Bourbon virus came back positive June 22, just hours before Wilson died.