So we’ve all heard of Lyme disease (or at least we should have after learning about the disease in class), but there’s another tick disease that’s deadlier. The Powassan Virus is a relatively new virus that is beginning to appear in all of North America. It is transmitted via bite; there are only three known species that carry the virus: Ixodes marxi, Ixodes cookei, and Ixodes scapularis, or the deer tick. Those infected usually suffer from flu-like symptoms, such as fever, nausea, and vomiting, and most notably encephalitis and sometimes meningitis. Most treatments deal with lessening the symptoms, however this is sometimes not enough as there is a mortality rate of 10-15%. The reason Powassan Virus is currently deadlier than Lyme disease is that Powassan is a viral infection rather than a bacterial infection. Therefore, the antibiotic that is used to treat Lyme, a bacterial infection that rarely ever cause deaths, will not be useful. There is also no current vaccine since there has not been much research regarding Powassan.
In June of 2017, Maine had reported two cases of the deadly Powassan Virus, but the patients have recovered since then. What’s strange is that these would be two of only 75 cases in the northeastern area within the last decade. Compared to the 30,000 yearly cases of lyme disease, it is unknown why there are such little cases. However, while cases are rare, infection is becoming increasingly prevalent. A recently finished tick summary done by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station concluded that the tick population is currently on the rise along with all the diseases that the parasite hold. Researchers warn that due to climate change, less ticks are dying to the cold. Since days are getting warmer, the range of months that the parasites can live in is also slowly starting to increase.
Just like with Lyme disease, preventative action is the best way to not get the virus. Experts suggests for people to wear long pants and shirts while traveling in forests or areas of thick vegetation. Insect repellents that contain DEET is also advised to prevent ticks from biting.