A rare, potentially deadly tick-borne disease has infected people in New Jersey. And health officials say it could be worse than Lyme disease. The same tick that carries Lyme disease has caused Powassan, otherwise known as POW. It is a virus infection that can impact the nervous system, memory, thinking and balance.
In some cases, it can be deadly, according to health officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it did kill a patient in Minnesota. Brain swelling from the virus is was what caused her death, officials say.
New Jersey has had three cases, the fifth highest amount in the country. Others who have reported cases are Minnesota, 20; New York, 16; Wisconsin, 15; Massachusetts, 8; Maine, 2; New Hampshire, 1; Pennsylvania, 1; and Virginia 1.
The disease has been recognized in the United States, Canada and Russia. In the United States, cases of POW virus disease have been reported primarily from northeastern states and the Great Lakes region, according to the CDC.
These cases occur primarily in the late spring, early summer and mid-fall when ticks are most active. The CDC did not identify specific locations in New Jersey for the disease.
Jennifer Lyons, chief of the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told CNN that 15 percent of patients who are infected and have symptoms are not going to survive.
“Of the survivors,” she told CNN, “at least 50 percent will have long-term neurological damage that is not going to resolve.”
POW virus disease cases are rare, but the reported number of cases have increased in recent years. All residents of and visitors to areas where POW virus activity has been identified are at risk of infection.
People who engage in outdoor work and recreational activities in endemic areas are at increased risk of infection, according to the CDC.
- Many people who become infected with Powassan virus do not develop any symptoms.
- The incubation period (time from tick bite to onset of illness) ranges from about one week to one 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).
- Symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.
- Approximately half of survivors have permanent neurological symptoms, such as recurrent headaches, muscle wasting and memory problems.
- Approximately 10 percent of POW virus encephalitis cases are fatal.*
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