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Powassan — A growing, deadly tick-borne illness danger for New Jersey

Wood tick

Many people know about the dangers posed by Lyme disease, but there is increasing concern about another tick-borne illness that can be deadly.

The Powassan virus, though rare, is potentially more serious than Lyme disease.

“It can cause headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck and sleepiness, confusion, tremors, seizures, paralysis and possible coma,” said tick expert Pat Smith, the president of the Lyme Disease Association. “It’s problematic because there is no real treatment. Tey just give you palliative care and try to treat the symptoms and hope that you make it through.”

She pointed out Powassan virus “has a fatality rate of from 10 to 15 percent, and so this is something that is extremely serious.”

“Cases of Powassan can be asymptomatic or mild but Powassan occasionally makes somebody very, very ill, such the point where they get hospitalized or perhaps even die,” said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.

He said if a patient comes down with the disease “in the hospital we would hydrate them and support them, but it’s just what we call supportive care, there’s no curative treatment.’

Smith said if you do survive the disease “it’s problematic, because the survivors have 50 percent permanent neurological problems.” .

According to the CD,  there have been 32 cases in the Northeast from 2006 to 2015, and three of them have been in New Jersey.

So why does Powassan appear to be on the rise?

She said we are seeing increasing tick populations and “with a lot of development and things like that, people are a lot closer now to nature, if you will.”

Louie stressed the importance of the self-check after you’ve been outside.

“That includes areas like your groin, under your arms, because tics do like hard to find places and warm places,” he said.

He recommended if you do spend time in the great outdoors “you must put insect repellent on your cloths, wear long pants and shirts, cover yourself up.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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