Deadly tick-borne virus is raising health concerns in New Jersey
The Powassan virus has gained the attention of health officials in New Jersey. It's rarer than Lyme disease, but this tick-borne illness is deadlier and has had some activity in the Garden State over the past couple years.
According to state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan with the New Jersey Department of Health, there was one confirmed case of Powassan virus in 2013, and one in 2014. The 2013 case resulted in a fatality. About 60 Powassan infections have been reported nationwide over the past decade.
"We have the deer tick here in New Jersey, and that is one of the vectors that can actually be a reservoir for the Powassan virus," Tan said.
If bitten by an infected tick, some victims may show no symptoms of the virus and would require no treatment. But Powassan also has the potential to cause severe symptoms such as fever, vomiting, weakness, loss of coordination and memory loss.
"POW virus can infect the central nervous system and cause encephalitis and meningitis," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states. "Approximately 10 percent of POW virus encephalitis cases are fatal."
Persons with the worst symptoms, according to the CDC site, need to be hospitalized for treatment such as respiratory support and intravenous fluids.
Tadhgh Rainey, division head for the Hunterdon County Division of Health, said he's mainly concerned with the northwest region of the state and Monmouth County because of their heavy deer tick presence, but he expects cases to remain few and far between for the time being.
"My guess is we're going to see a case or two sporadically in this region, and maybe after that it kicks up a little," Rainey said.
Still, he said, this virus reaffirms the importance of prevention.
The state health department offers the following tips on preventing tick-borne diseases:
- Avoid wooded areas with high grass and dense shrubs, where ticks are likely to hide;
- When outdoors, apply insect repellent to exposed skin and clothing;
- Keep playground equipment and patios away from yard edges and trees;
- Cover up with long-sleeved clothing when possible;
- Perform tick checks before going indoors.