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It’s not just Lyme disease you have to worry about

Cases of the potentially life-threatening tick-borne Powassan virus have been detected in New York state.
In addition to Lyme Disease, deer ticks may be carriers of the rare and potentially deadly Powassan virus. Have fun campers! Photo:ISTOCK

Tick season has been so severe this year that New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wants to make it a federal issue. 

On Monday, Gillibrand announced that the US Department of Health and Human Services had begun taking nominations for the Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group. The federal advisory committee would advocate for more funding and research into Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. The senator emphasized support for those suffering from “Chronic Lyme disease,” a condition that affects 10 to 20 percent of patients infected with Lyme and is characterized by lingering symptoms such as nausea, nerve and joint pain, headaches and dizziness. 

And this year, it’s more than just Lyme disease, a bacterial infection caused by a bite from a black-legged deer tick. Two cases of Powassan virus (POW Virus) have been identified in Saratoga County upstate and a third suspected. In June, a man died of the virus and this week a woman has been hospitalized. 

According to the CDC, only 75 suspected cases of Powassan virus were identified in the United States over the past ten years. (For perspective, 95 cases of Lyme disease were reported just in 2015). 

Though the virus is extremely rare, it can be deadly. Dr. Jennifer Lyons, chief of the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told CNN that 15 percent of infected patients showing symptoms won’t survive, and “at least 50 percent will have long-term neurological damage that is not going to resolve.” While the majority of cases of Lyme Disease clear up after a course or two of antibiotics, there is no cure for Powassan Virus. 

As with Lyme disease, it’s transmitted by deer ticks and infected persons will also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and headache. Unlike Lyme disease, it does not produce a rash. Infected patients might also experience vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and meningitis. Symptoms kick in anywhere from a week to a month of infection, with some cases being symptomless. 

And while it can take a tick up to 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease to its host, POW Virus can take hold in as quickly as 15 minutes. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms, you should go to the hospital, where treatments include intravenous fluids, respiratory support and medications to reduce brain encephalitis. 

Experts advise folks to take the same precautions they would with Lyme disease. Avoid heavily wooded areas and tall grasses, but if you’re going to go camping or hiking, wear long sleeves and pants, spray yourself with insect and tick repellant and thoroughly check your body and your belongings for ticks afterwards. 

Have fun campers!