Powassan virus is invading Connecticut resulting in health officials scrambling to contain the illness which can result from infections. Like Lyme disease, the Powassan virus is carried by ticks.
The Center for Vector Biology & Zoonotic Diseases, managed by the state government of Connecticut is directing operations to limit the spread of the potentially-fatal infections.
Outbreaks of the disease have been recorded in two locations in the Constitution State, Lake Success in Bridgeport, and North Branford's Lake Gaillard. Ticks carrying the dangerous microorganism have been seen throughout the northeastern states, as well as the Great Lakes. Researchers believe it is just a coincidence that these findings are all near water, although ticks do prefer moist conditions.
Symptoms of infection are similar to those of the more-familiar Lyme disease, including muscle aches, fever, and weakness. However, unlike Lyme infections, symptoms of the illness caused by Powassan can be felt minutes after the person is bitten.
Powassan virus can cause permanent damage to the nervous systems of those afflicted by the disease, and there is no known cure. Around 10 percent of victims die from the disease, although many people who contract the virus never show any symptoms.
"The doctor just has to support you during the acute illness and hope that you survive. You can get seizures, high fevers, stiff neck. It comes on so suddenly that it's the kind of thing people go to the emergency room for," Daniel Cameron, a New York-based rheumetologist specializing in tick-borne diseases, said.
Around two percent of the ticks examined in the two Connecticut hot spots were found to be carrying the Powassan virus. Most cases of the disease in the United States are diagnosed in people who contracted the disease in the Great Lakes region.
Discovered in 1950, the virus is named after the Canadaian city near the location it was first identified.
"The incubation period (time from tick bite to onset of illness) ranges from about 1 week to 1 month. POW virus can infect the central nervous system and cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord)," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Fortunately, there are few recorded cases of infections by the Powassan virus. Just 12 Americans were diagnosed with the disease in 2013. This tied 2011 for the greatest numbers of instances of the illness since 2004.
Doctors recommend that people walking outdoors should wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and check themselves for ticks once they return home, in order to avoid tick-borne illnesses, including the Powassan virus.
Photo: John Tann | Flickr