ALBANY, N.Y. — Health officials say a second case of a rare tick-borne virus has been confirmed and another is probable in the upstate New York county where a man died last month after contracting the illness.
State health officials say Tuesday a second case of the Powassan virus has been confirmed in Saratoga County. Officials expected a third case to be confirmed as Powassan.
The person with the confirmed case of Powassan remains hospitalized, while the other person was treated and released. Officials aren’t releasing other information.
The Health Department previously said that a person was found to have had the Powassan virus after dying last month. The illness hasn’t been medically confirmed to have caused the death.
The victim’s family told local media he was a 74-year-old Saratoga County resident.
Take the past mild winter, growing deer and mice populations and the result is an expected boom in numbers of ticks this year – and most likely, a rise in incidents of Lyme disease in Upstate New York.
If that isn’t bad enough, a more serious tick-borne disease may be emerging in the Northeast that’s been reported in deer ticks. It’s Powassan virus, which is far rarer but more deadly than the bacterium that results in Lyme, according to Today.com.
Powassan causes inflammation of the brain and can lead to death or permanent disability in 60 percent of the cases. There is no real treatment for the disease, “just supportive care until the body vanquishes it.”
From 2006 to 2015, a total of 75 instances of the severe disease have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those cases, 16 were in New York.
Just last week a 5-month-old baby from Connecticut was diagnosed after developing neurological symptoms,” according to Today.com.
“The bottom line is that we should be very scared of it because nobody is safe from it,” said Dr. Jennifer Lyons, chief of the division of neurological and inflammatory diseases at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School. “And it could be that it is emerging and will explode over the next few years.”
Researchers have known about the Powassan virus for a while, but didn’t consider it a big problem because it was carried by a tick that rarely bites humans. That has changed, though, because it is now being carried by deer ticks, which do bite humans.
Experts differ on the extent of the danger of this disease to the general population, emphasizing it’s still relatively rare. They note that they don’t have a handle on how many are actually infected with it since the current stats are based on individuals who show severe symptoms – and that there possibly there more that are infected and only exhibit minor symptoms.
Nevertheless, one thing to emphasize is that the Powassan virus can be transmitted to a human host by a deer tick in as little as 15 minutes. By comparison, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease needs some 24 hours to pass from a tick to a human.
The Powassan virus “goes to the brain an attacks the part that keeps you awake, keep your heart rate steady and your breathing drive going,” said
Symptoms of Powassan virus include fever, headache, loss of coordination, trouble speaking, and even seizures.
The reported cases have mostly come from the Northeast and the northern part of the Midwest.