A family is grieving today due to the loss of a family member whom they adored. Tamela Wilson, beloved mother and daughter, lost her life due to complications from a virus she contracted from a tick bite while working at Meramec State Park.
“I want people to know it’s out there. We have a virus that doesn’t have a cure, and that’s scary,” Wilson’s daughter, Amie May, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Wilson, a 10-year park employee veteran was used to tick bites but this, THIS was different. Only two days after removing the ticks, Wilson became very ill. She sought medical attention and her doctor initially diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection. He gave Wilson antibiotics but she only got worse.
“She literally couldn’t even pick up her phone. She had no strength,” May told CBS News. “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.”
Wilson returned to her doctor and described her worsening symptoms, including severe headaches and pain, and a red rash. Her doctor ordered several tests where it was confirmed that her white blood cell count was low. She was then admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
“They did a couple skin biopsies, but they came back fine,” May said. “They did other testing for tick-borne disease, but those were also negative.”
Wilson’s family sat vigil and prayed.
“They told us, you know, basically, they were hoping it would leave her system,” May said. “They would continue treating her symptoms and hope everything would go away on its own.”
Sadly, Wilson’s health only got worse. She then developed HLH, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a rare condition where the body makes too many activated immune cells. This caused the rash to spread everywhere, even inside her mouth.
“I’m a nurse and I’ve never seen anything like I’d seen my mother’s mouth,” May said. “It got so bad toward the end she couldn’t talk, couldn’t drink, couldn’t eat — nothing.”
The CDC stepped in and her blood was rigorously tested. They confirmed that Wilson had the rare Bourbon virus.
In another devastating blow, the CDC told May that there is no treatment for the Bourbon virus and it just has to take its course.
Three weeks after being admitted to the hospital, Wilson lost her battle and passed away. Doctors confirm that she’s the 5th reported case since the rare disease was first discovered.
May and her family are taking to the media to speak out and warn others about the tragedies associated with tick bites.
The warmer months are when ticks are most active and their spread of diseases must be taken seriously.
A CDC epidemiologist, Dr. Christopher Braden, told CBS News that incidents of tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease, have tripled in the United States since 2001. The numbers keep increasing and new illnesses are being discovered.
In addition to Lyme disease, ticks can also spread less common but more dangerous infections like Heartland virus, Powassan virus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease can have devastating consequences but the other viruses can be quick and deadly with fewer treatment options.
“I was somebody, like, 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.”