Creeping death: Tick virus explodes across U.S.


Just as health departments across the nation are warning that this year’s springtime and summer seasons following a milder winter will offer an especially high threat from ticks, federal health officials say two new cases of a tick-borne illness that kills 1 in 10 infected have been reported in Maine.

WND reported last month that the Centers for Disease Control had expressed alarm over the emergence of a far deadlier tick-related virus than Lyme Disease – one that kills 10 percent of those infected and permanently disables another 50 percent.

It’s called POW for short, or Powassan, and it, like Lyme, is carried by deer.

According to a Fox News report, the cases in Maine bring that state’s count of infections to nine since 2000.

The patients were not identified by the CDC, but officials said the concerns are legitimate since the virus differs from Lyme disease in that it can be transferred from a tick bite to a person in only minutes.

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“It’s a virus, whereas Lyme is a bacteria,” Dr. Kent Holtorf, a Lyme disease expert and medical director of Holtorf Medical Group, said in an interview Fox.

“If you catch Lyme early, antibiotics can eradicate it, but with a virus, you have much less options to do anything about it.”

In addition to being more infectious, he explained, the symptoms are more serious.

The Fox report explained it “can quickly reach a patient’s brain, leaving them susceptible to long-term neurological damage. The patients in Maine began presenting symptoms in late April and were hospitalized with encephalitis. They’ve since been discharged and are continuing to recover. Not all patients will have symptoms and will not be impacted by the infection, but those who are may experience fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss. In 10-15 percent of cases, the virus proves fatal.”

Health officials, bloggers, and more have been discussing for weeks the expectation that this year would be a bad one for ticks.

Tech Times reported on the issue that while warm months traditionally have been the worst for tick activity, they “are … now living year-round since the last couple of years.”

“I’ve seen more ticks on dogs in the last two and a half years than I have in the last 15 years of practice,” veterinarian Clayton Greenway told the Fox report. “They’re really becoming a hazard.”

The blog reported that in addition to Lyme disease, and Powassan, “scientists found at least a dozen new tick-borne conditions” in recent decades.

“There’s anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and a Lyme-similar bacterium in the Northeast, while the Midwest deals with concerns like Lyme-like Heartland virus and Bourbon virus. The South is documented to be battling Southern tick-associated rash illness, while the West has detected a new kind of spotted fever.”

But Powassan “is particularly concerning,” the report said.

“It’s a deadly one transmitted by the local blacklegged tick. It attacks the brain, swells it up, and leads to a 50 percent likelihood of permanent neurological damage even upon recover,” the report said.

In Fox’s new report, Holtorf said, “In terms of the risk of you getting it, it’s very low. But there are going to be people that are going to get it, and though most won’t have symptoms, there are going to be people that are going to have severe brain damage from it – so it is concerning that you’re normal one day, and a few weeks later, you’re on a respirator and never the same again.”

Federal officials report that previously, there have been only a handful of cases reported nationwide each year.

Various states also have issued warnings and federal officials are warning how to avoid problems.

“Holtorf cited CDC recommendations to use tick repellent with DEET, and advised people who enjoy the outdoors to wear long pants, tuck jeans into pants or socks, and conduct frequent tick checks,” Fox reported.

WND reported signs of Powassan include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss.

There is no specific treatment, but people with severe POW virus illnesses often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain.

“About 15 percent of patients who are infected and have symptoms are not going survive,” said Dr. Jennifer Lyons, chief of the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “Of the survivors, at least 50 percent will have long-term neurological damage that is not going to resolve.”

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The Powassan virus was first discovered in Ontario, Canada, in 1958.

“A kid came down with an unspecified encephalitis,” or brain inflammation, Lyons explained. When the never-seen-before virus was identified, the scientists called it Powassan after the town where the child lived.

Only a couple of cases were seen each year from the 1950s to the early 2000s, when reports of cases in Canada and the U.S. started to rise. A paper suggested that the virus might have been found in far eastern Russia as well.

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