Perhaps you have heard of Liam Phillips, the young toddler that acquired Powassan virus at 5 months of age in Griswold, Connecticut, apparently from a tick that his father inadvertently introduced into the home upon return from a deer hunt. Blessedly, Liam appears to have survived his infection and resulting viral encephalitis as he recovers at home.
The good news is that the Powassan virus is considered quite rare as on average only 7 cases a year are reported within the United States with the Northeast and Great Lakes regions being the apparent home to this infection. Powassan virus was first discovered in Canada and is transmitted by the same tick that transmits Lyme disease, the Deer Tick (aka lxodes scapularis). Unfortunately, it is believed that unlike Lyme disease which requires 24-48 hours of tick attachment to transmit the bacteria Borrelia responsible for Lyme disease, Powassan virus can be transmitted in as rapidly as 15 minutes of tick attachment time. In addition, given that many infected individuals will remain asymptomatic, it is suspected that this disease is largely under reported and is likely more prevalent than realized.
To the doctors of the Burlington Veterinary Center, this further underscores the importance of tick control measures for our clients, their pets, and family. Powassan may be the newest player in the region but we are fraught with several potentially severe tick transmitted diseases, the most famous being Lyme disease, but others are also prevalent in this region including Anaplasma and Ehrlichia. In 2015, we conducted a review of our own hospital database and found that 55% of our canine patients that we tested had been exposed to Borrelia borgderferi (the organism that causes Lyme disease), Anaplasma, or Ehrlichia (note: our heartworm 4Dx test assesses for the exposure of 3 tick borne illnesses; i.e. not just sick patients were tested!). We urge our clients to do all they can to insure thorough tick protection for our patients, our owners, and their families. We have several excellent tick prevention products available to our patients at the BVC, or through our website where you can order products and have them shipped directly to you home. Please exercise caution regarding tick control products and our feline friends especially regarding over the counter tick product use as each year we are presented with cats that have had complications with the administration of over the counter tick prevention products.
We encourage our clients to reach out to us with any questions regarding Powassan virus or any of the other tick transmitted diseases, as well as any questions you may have regarding you and your pets.
Here is some additional information from the Centers for Disease Control:
Powassan (POW) virus is transmitted to humans by infected ticks. Approximately 75 cases of POW virus disease were reported in the United States over the past 10 years. Most cases have occurred in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long term neurological problems may occur. 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. You can reduce your risk of being infected with POW virus by using tick repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants, avoiding bushy and wooded areas, and doing thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors. If you think you or a family member may have POW virus disease, it is important to consult your healthcare provider.