KNOXVILLE (WATE) – As if Lyme disease isn’t troubling enough, health experts are warning of a serious disease emerging in the United States that is transmitted by the same tick that carries Lyme disease.
There have been approximately 75 cases of Powassan (POW) virus reported in the United States over the past 10 years, according to Center for Disease Control. Even though the disease has been rare in humans, experts say the disease has the potential to become a serious public health concern.
Professor Durland Fish of the Yale School of Public Health says until a few decades ago, the POW virus was only transmitted by a tick species that does not commonly bite humans and human cases were extremely rare, however, ecological changes have resulted in the pathogen spreading to the common deer tick. Fish said the change could result in an increase of the potentially life-threatening virus in humans.
The POW virus attacks the nervous system and can infect the brain causing inflammation, a condition known as encephalitis, according to Fish. It can also infect the lining of the brain, causing meningitis.
Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurologic problems may occur.There is no specific treatment, but people with severe POW virus illnesses often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain.
Anyone bitten by an infected tick can get it, Dr. Jennifer Lyons, chief of the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told CNN. Infections are most likely during late spring, early summer and mid-fall, when ticks are most active.
“About 15 percent of patients who are infected and have symptoms are not going survive,” said Lyons. “Of the survivors, at least 50 percent will have long-term neurological damage that is not going to resolve.”
The CDC says people can reduce their risk of being infected with POW virus by using tick repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants, avoiding bushy and wooded areas, and doing thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors. If you think you or a family member may have POW virus disease, it is important to consult your healthcare provider.