from CNN, May 3, 2017
by Susan Scutti
Summer is nearly here, and it’s bringing fears of a rare tick-borne disease called Powassan. This potentially life-threatening virus is carried and transmitted by three types of ticks, including the deer tick that transmits Lyme disease.
Over the past decade, 75 cases have been reported in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though no one can say how many infections will occur this year, warmer winters have led to an increased tick population, so experts predict rising tick-borne infections of many types.
Everyone is at risk for Powassan: Newborns, 20-somethings, the middle-aged, the elderly and the immunocompromised. Anyone bitten by an infected tick can get it, said Dr. Jennifer Lyons, chief of the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Infections are most likely during late spring, early summer and mid-fall, when ticks are most active.”
About 15% of patients who are infected and have symptoms are not going survive,” said Lyons, who is also an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “
Of the survivors, at least 50% will have long-term neurological damage that is not going to resolve.”Although most infected people will never show symptoms, those who do become sick usually do so a few days to about a week after the tick bite, she said. The most common symptoms will be fever and headache.
“You basically feel nonspecific flu-like stuff,” Lyons said, including “muscle aches and pains; maybe you have a little rash on your skin, but almost certainly, you’ll have a fever and the headache.”
The unlucky few who develop a more serious illness will do so “very quickly over the next couple of days,” she said. “You start to develop difficulties with maintaining your consciousness and your cognition. … You may develop seizures. You may develop
The unlucky few who develop a more serious illness will do so “very quickly over the next couple of days,” she said. “You start to develop difficulties with maintaining your consciousness and your cognition. … You may develop seizures. You may develop inability to breathe on your own.”
Scientists also believe Powassan is on the rise based on studies that have identified an increasing number of infections in deer.
“So it does seem that there are more and more deer that they’re finding that have been infected with this virus,” Lyons said. “So we should expect it to increase in human disease incidence over the next few years.”
Similarly, Lyme is showing increasing numbers.
According to a recent tick summary report (PDF), 19% of deer ticks received and tested by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, a state-owned research facility, in 2012 were found to be infected with Lyme disease, and 29% of the deer ticks tested positive for the virus in 2016.
A bad tick season ahead
Goudarz Molaei, a research scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, is predicting more new Lyme disease infections in the coming months due to larger numbers of ticks and higher infection rates among them. Each year, there are nearly 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease across the United States, according to the CDC, though with unconfirmed cases, the total may be as high as 300,000.Historically, in the winter, the station doesn’t receive many ticks for testing, he explained: one or two per month, maybe five at the most.
Historically, in the winter, the station doesn’t receive many ticks for testing, he explained: one or two per month, maybe five at the most.
“This year so far, we’ve received hundreds of ticks,” Molaei said. “Since April 1, we’ve received nearly 1,000 ticks.” This greater abundance comes as a result of two consecutive warm winters, which the insects are better able to survive, and longer springs and summers.
“In one day, 50% of ticks were infected,” he said. Peak season should be occurring around June or July.”To make the matter more complicated, we are seeing
To make the matter more complicated, we are seeing greater number of ticks infected with other tick-associated pathogens, including babesiosis and anaplasmosis,” Molaei said. Both babesiosis and anaplasmosis usually don’t have symptoms, just like Powassan, though both may cause severe or even life-threatening illnesses.
“With ticks, it is no longer just Lyme disease,” Molaei said.
Prevention is the first step
The Powassan virus was first discovered in Ontario in 1958.”
A kid came down with an unspecified encephalitis,” or brain inflammation, Lyons explained. When the never-seen-before virus was identified, the scientists called it Powassan after the town where the child lived.