Scientists warn of new tick virus pathogen

Lyme disease affects a human?s body in stages, Lyme disease affects a human’s body in stages, said Bruce Hirsch, a physician at North Shore University Hospital, one of which includes a rash. Sometimes called a “target rash” or a “bull's-eye rash,” it has rings of circles, which can vary in color and pattern. Photo Credit: Newsday File /Bill Davis

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Federal scientists have isolated a new virus in ticks that has never occurred in the Western Hemisphere and are calling on scientists elsewhere -- including those on Long Island -- to search for evidence of the disease-causing pathogen.

Virus hunters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the microbe causes an illness nearly identical to ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne disease that is caused by a bacterium.

The new pathogen, known as a phlebovirus, was isolated in two Missouri men who doctors knew had been bitten by ticks but whose disease didn't respond to antibiotics, which are useless against viral pathogens.

Dr. William L. Nicholson, chief of pathogen biology and disease ecology at the CDC, said the unexpected appearance of a phlebovirus in the United States stunned his research team.

"This is the first time a phlebovirus has infected humans in the Western Hemisphere," he said.