First identified in two Missouri farmers exhibiting low white-blood-cell and platelet counts in 2009, Heartland virus (HRTV) is genetically closely related to severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus (SFTSV), a tick-borne phlebovirus producing similar symptoms in China, Korea, and Japan. Field isolations of HRTV from several life stages of unfed, host-seeking Amblyomma americanum
, the lone star tick, implicated it as a putative vector capable of transstadial transmission. Laboratory vector competence assessments confirmed transstadial transmission of HRTV, demonstrated vertical infection, and showed co-feeding infection between A. americanum
. A vertical infection rate of 33% from adult females to larvae in the laboratory was observed, while only one of 386 pools of molted nymphs (1930) reared from co-feeding larvae was positive for HRTV (maximum-likelihood estimate of infection rate = 0.52/1000). Over 35 human HRTV cases, all within the distribution range of A. americanum
, have been documented. Serological testing of wildlife in areas near the index human cases, as well as in widely separated regions of the eastern United States where A. americanum
occur, indicated many potential hosts such as raccoons and white-tailed deer. Attempts, however, to experimentally infect mice, rabbits, hamsters, chickens, raccoons, goats, and deer failed to produce detectable viremia. Immune-compromised mice and hamsters are the only susceptible models. Vertical infection augmented by co-feeding transmission could play a role in maintaining the virus in nature. A more complete assessment of the natural transmission cycle of HRTV coupled with serosurveys and enhanced HRTV disease surveillance are needed to better understand transmission dynamics and human health risks.
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