As the spring continues on and summer is on the horizon, experts predict that diseases spread by ticks, like the rare Powassan virus and Lyme Disease, will be on the increase. The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), which can also transmit Lyme disease, a bacterial disease, is one of three types of ticks that is also known to spread the Powassan virus. The other two types are Ixodes cookei and Ixodes marxi.
CNN reported that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 75 cases of Powassan virus over the past ten years that have been reported in the Great Lakes region and the northeastern states. The prediction by experts that there will be an increase in the cases of Powassan virus, Lyme disease, and other diseases borne by ticks is based, in part, on the warmer winters that the United States has been experiencing the past few years. The warmer winters have led to a upswelling in the numbers of ticks in the wild, which could correlate, in turn, with an increase in the cases of tick-borne diseases in America.
There is no segment of the United States population who are immune to the risk of getting the Powassan virus from ticks. Dr. Jennifer Lyons, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, stated that if a person is bitten by an infected tick, he or she can get the disease, no matter if the person is a newborn, in his or her twenties, are middle-aged, or are in any other group of the population.
Lyons broke down the probabilities of a person’s outcome if her or she is bitten by a tick infected with the Powassan virus. She said that a relatively small number of people who become infected with the Powassan virus via ticks, approximately 15 percent, “are not going survive.” Continuing, Lyons said that in the group of people who survive, long-term neurological damage will result in “at least 50%” of them.
According to Lyons, most of the people who get bitten by ticks infected with the Powassan virus “will never show symptoms.” Of the people who develop symptoms, Lyons said that the symptoms start to show up within “a few days to about a week after the tick bite.” She mentioned that among the most common symptoms are experiencing a headache and fever, and possibly “muscle aches and pains,” like a person might feel at the onset of the flu. The person infected with a case of the Powassan virus might also have a mild skin rash.
According to the CDC, other symptoms can include vomiting, memory loss, confusion and weakness. Hospitalization might also be necessary, in order to treat potential swelling of the brain through ensuring that patients “receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications.”
The small but significant percentage of people who become more seriously ill will experience more severe symptoms a few days after the initial ones happen. Lyons stated that these people often will have difficulty remaining conscious and their cognition and clear thinking could be affected adversely. Some people, Lyons said, could “develop seizures,” and even lose the ability to breathe on their own.
There is currently no treatment and no cure for the Powassan virus. Lyons stated that “some experimental therapies” exist, but she said that no one really has an idea “if any of that works.”
According to Today.com, the Powassan virus can cause inflammation of the brains of victims of the rare but potentially deadly disease. In the people who come down with serious symptoms and do not die as a result, as many as 60 percent of them could become permanently disabled. Last week, the latest victim of the disease reported was a five-month-old baby in Connecticut who had developed “neurological symptoms.”
Besides the milder winters much of the United States has been experiencing the past few years, which appears to have led to a population increase of ticks, studies have discovered that there have been more deer confirmed as being infected by the Powassan virus. The increase in deers infected by Powassan, Lyons said, probably means there will also be an “increase in human disease incidence over the next few years.” Cases of Lyme disease are also expected to be on the rise.
Dr. Daniel Pastula, at the University of Colorado Denver and Colorado School of Public Health, suggested that the best way people can deal with the risk of contracting Powassan is to act in a preventative manner, by not going into areas that have a lot of high brush whenever they are out in the woods. Also, wearing pants and long sleeves and the use of insect repellent containing chemicals like IR3535, DEET or picaridin, will help ensure that people who enjoy being in the great outdoors will still be able to have a fun time and not have to worry about getting a tick-borne disease.
It is possible that the Powassan virus is more common than many experts have thought it is. That is because the current statistics about the virus are compiled from “people who developed severe disease.” Many more people might have become infected but do not even realize it, if they only came down with minor symptoms.
Experts predict a likelihood that cases of diseases spread by ticks, like the Powassan virus and Lyme disease, will be on the increase this spring, summer and fall. A person bitten by a tick infected with the Powassan virus can become infected within 15 minutes, while if a person is bitten by a tick with Lyme disease, the tick needs to stay on the person for 24 hours or longer for “the Lyme bacterium” to be transmitted.
By John Samuels