In many parts of the country blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, have a fearsome reputation for spreading Lyme disease. Commonly transmitted to humans, tick-borne diseases are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be on the rise. Now scientists believe they have discovered a new threat from the blacklegged ticks called the Powassan virus.
In a recently published paper in the journal Parasites and Vectors, researchers suggest that the Powassan virus is responsible for a number of human infections throughout the Hudson Valley in New York state. According to the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, the virus can cause nervous system disruption, encephalitis, and meningitis in humans. There is a 10 to 15 percent fatality rate in documented cases and some survivors are left with permanent neurological damage.
“We’ve seen a rise in this rare but serious illness in parts of New York State that are hot spots for Lyme disease,” said Rick Ostfeld, one of the paper’s authors. “We suspected it was tied to an increase in blacklegged ticks carrying deer tick virus, particularly on the east side of the Hudson River.”