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Oh, great - another virus

May 21, 2017
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

As if there weren't enough reasons for folks to have their guard up when entering the outdoors, along comes another concern. It is called the POW virus. Powassan is related to the West Nile virus, according to the CDC. Historically, it's carried by several different ticks: Ixodes cookei and Ixodes marxi, which rarely bite humans. But now the disease has shown up in Ixodes scapularis (i.e., deer ticks), which frequently bite humans and are also responsible for spreading Lyme disease.

For years we have been talking about Lyme's Disease. Lyme Disease is bad. Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi carried by ticks and can cause all kinds of serious skin, musculoskeletal, nervous system, and heart problems.

And we have talked before about how people will exhibit a telltale bullseye rash following a tick bite and others will not. How some will have flu-like symptoms following becoming infected by the bacterium and others will not. After many years, still much is not known or spoken about Lyme's Disease.

And then along comes this new concern related to the deer tick.

According to Richard Watkins, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at Northeastern Ohio Medical University and an infectious diseases physician in Akron, Ohio, this is bad news because Powassan can result in a more severe illness than Lyme. Ten percent of Powassan virus cases are fatal, according to the CDC. "Some people will only have a fever while others develop neurological symptoms such as confusion and seizures," Dr. Watkins says. Long-term neurological complications are common. Ten to fifteen percent of people that do get infected do have life-long neurological conditions afterward.

Other symptoms include chills, muscle aches and pains, headaches, and paralysis, Dr. Adalja says, noting that the disease can also cause encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain that can be deadly or lead to permanent disability, or meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. However, he adds, like Zika virus, some people can contract Powassan virus and have no symptoms at all.

There's no specific treatment for the disease. "Patients who develop seizures can be treated with anti seizure medications, and physical and occupational therapy can help those with neurological complications," Dr. Watkins says. People with severe cases are typically hospitalized, observed, and given supportive care to help control their symptoms, Dr. Adalja says.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are among the states with cases of Powassan virus. However, the biggest number of cases reported to the CDC in recent years have been from Wisconsin, Minnesota our neighbors to the north.

That's about all I could find on this virus in my search. A virus that has similarities to West Nile and the Zika viruses. But am I staying clear of the woods or other natural habitats? No. My precautions will be what we have been saying for years. If you go into woods or high grass, be sure to wear insect repellent with DEET, and check yourself from head-to-toe afterward. Also make sure to protect and check your pets.



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