LYME SCI: Powassan more prevalent than previously thought
Tick-borne Powassan virus has been gaining attention after sending former North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan into a 43-day coma this past year.
Thankfully, Senator Hagan was recently released from the hospital and is said to be recovering, although she has difficulty speaking and is still unable to walk.
Unfortunately, others were not so lucky. Powassan has reportedly caused at least three deaths in the past year.
While Powassan virus (POWV) was discovered nearly 60 years ago, many people are learning of it for the first time. Of special concern: it can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes by the same tick that carries Lyme disease.
Because POWV has been considered so rare, with only 75 cases reported in the United States over the past 10 years, very little is known about it—until now.
A new study conducted by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin demonstrates that POWV may be much more prevalent than previously thought. Of 95 patients tested for suspected tick-borne disease, 66% showed evidence of current or prior Lyme infection.
Of those patients who tested positive for Lyme disease, 17% had serologic evidence of acute POWV infection. Considering there are an estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease per year, POWV may affect more patients than we know.
Durland Fish, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine who specializes in vector-borne diseases, warned of POWV in 2015. He says one of the biggest concerns is that POWV jumped to the deer tick within the last 30 years and “cases are being reported in areas where they have never occurred before.”
Dr. Fish goes on to say, “As more ticks become infected with Powassan virus and more people become exposed to them, Powassan could become epidemic like Lyme disease. Because it can be a serious disease—causing fatalities—and there is no treatment for it, Powassan has the potential to become a greater public health threat than Lyme disease.”
LymeSci is written by Lonnie Marcum, a Licensed Physical Therapist and mother of a daughter with Lyme. Follow her on Twitter: @ Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .