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Deadly New Deer Tick Virus Emerges in New York

Blacklegged ticks can carry a host of diseases, and now a new virus is taking root in New York.

Blacklegged ticks can carry a host of diseases, and now a new virus is taking root in New York.

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 Lineage II 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.”

Ostfeld and his team surveyed more than 13,000 individual ticks from a variety of hosts over a period of five years. Along with deer, the blacklegged tick can also be found on small critters such as raccoons, foxes, birds, and even domestic animals. According to the CDC, ticks will often prefer different hosts at each stage of their life and risk of human infection is highest during the creature’s nymph stage. Ticks primarily find hosts by waiting in well-traveled areas with their first pair of legs outstretched. When a suitable host passes by the tick climbs aboard and attaches itself to the unwary victim.

The tick will begin feeding in as quickly as 10 minutes’ time. If the tick carries the illness, Lyme disease can be transmitted within a few hours or up to two days. Oftentimes, this gives victims a “grace period” to remove the tick and possibly avoid being infected. The American Lyme Disease Foundation advises that if a tick has become attached but not yet engorged with blood, it is likely that it has not yet transmitted Lyme disease. Unfortunately, the Powassan virus is not as patient. Unlike many of the common illnesses transmitted by ticks, the virus transmission can take as little as 15 minutes.

“There is no vaccine or specific antiviral therapy,” said Ostfield. “The best strategy remains prevention.”

While the Powassan virus is rare compared to Lyme disease, Ostfeld remains worried that the virus will spread beyond the state.

“The infection prevalence of about 1 percent to 6 percent among these ticks is low compared with Lyme disease, which often is found in 30 percent to 50 percent of ticks, but it’s still alarmingly high, giving you a one in 20 chance that the tick biting you might be transmitting a deadly virus,” Ostfeld told MedPage Today.

So far the Hudson River seems to provide a natural barrier preventing the virus from traveling west, but Ostfeld says historically deer ticks proved able to spread despite such obstacles.

“Therefore, we might expect Powassan to move across the Hudson into western New York and potentially elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions like the other tick-borne diseases,” Ostfeld said.

Research on the virus is ongoing. A different version of the Powassan virus was first identified in 1958 but relatively little is known about the virus until now.

Update: Other states in the region have also recorded cases of Powassan virus-related disease in recent years. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), common symptoms involve fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and memory loss. 

More information on identifying symptoms and possible risk of infection can be found on the MDH’s site here.

Visit the CDC’s website here for some useful tips on avoiding ticks.

Image courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • Greengiant

    Interesting and informative article that everyone should read. Thanks for publishing it.

  • Emily

    …wouldn’t it be prudent to tell people the symptoms and what to do regarding treatment options for something that is so potentially threatening?

    • Daniel Xu

      Thank you Emily, I have updated the article and added a link to the Minnesota Department of Health’s site for more information.

      • Heidi

        Looking over the MDH site I only see prevention, not treatment options. This is frightening!

      • Brandi

        It says right in the article that there is no therapy or vaccine. Prevention is the key.

    • J.James

      They did mention the treatment options. There isnt any treatment options. common symptoms involve fever, headache, vomiting, weakness,
      confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and memory loss.

  • whiteletter68

    So what in hell are we supposed to do to eradicate this damn tick? The number of insect initiated diseases has skyrocketed in the past ten years. Bring back the pesticides that kill them, and to hell with the tree huggers!

    • rex

      Get a terminator zapper.blood electrification will also kill this virus.

      Dr. kaali phd killed the aids virus in blood with weak electrical current

      • chennault

        That’s a complete falsehood. Stop spreading lies around. I’m tired of people saying anything they want, based on the idiot echo chamber of quack and denialists. You are doing more harm than good by spreading patently false, completely debunked ideas.

    • t Meehan

      Neurological, systemic and autoimmune diseases have also skyrocketed. Many are proven to be linked to pesticides on the foods we eat (also in the foods by way of GMO’s) and even in the air. While pesticides are a necessary evil to a small degree, they have become obscenely overused. Insects have become resistant and stronger strains must and have been developed. Have you ever seen a photo of workers spraying fields with pesticides? They look like CDC scientists in ful gear. Though I am no tree hugger, I believe that using more pesticides is not the way to go, they will do more damage, harm and kill more people than they will save and also, they are killing pollinating bees which are needed to grow many crops. Without proper nutrition, people would would otherwise be able to fight these diseases won’t be able to.

      • Jackie

        If we spray wooded areas it would help…that’s where the animals/deer are that carry the ticks to our back yards. If we don’t spray, the animals and birds will be circling our dead bodies.

  • Bauer s

    Maybe ny should start spraying to kill these ticks. The amount of devastation they are causing to us is unbelievable. I know of many people with Lyme and it ruins their lives. If it were any other disease there would be money lef
    t and right being thrown at it for control.

  • rex

    Mms#1,mms#2(calcium hypochlorite capsule 73%swallowed w 8 oz water=hypochlorous acid which is a pro oxidant your own white blood cells make which quickly kills this tick virus .there is no resistance to hypochlorous acid called master mineral solution #2. )

    • coryn

      Is there a link you could send me to? to research your above claim? it would be appreciated thx coryn alclear2403@aol.com

  • Speedtrippn31

    Could tick infestations be more of an ecology problem than a pesticide issue? In my local area (central Pennsylvania) the number of ticks in the woods has skyrocketed. When I was young my siblings and I would play in the woods all day without a worry of a tick. In the last five – ten years if I go 400 meters into the woods I likely have a tick on me.
    In the same area and over the same amount time the coyote population has boomed. The number of coyotes killed during the annual Mosquito Creek Coyote Hunt can attest to that. Given that Coyotes (and some pesticides) can decimate wild bird populations, that would be natural predators for ticks, is there a correlation between the rise in coyotes, decline in bird populations, and rise in tick populations?

    • fishskicanoe

      It probably has more to do with the rise in deer numbers than anything else. Coyotes would, if anything, lessen the number of rodents that are a essential vector for these ticks. Insect eating birds are taking a beating from the disruption of habitat in the their winter homes in the Tropics and Sub-tropics. I’m not sure what effect their numbers would have on ticks anyway. I don’t know of any North American bird species that specialize in consuming ticks.

  • Greta Bowen

    My poor pup, (6 months old) had had 1 embedded, engorged… Two had just bit and I’ve pulled six off of her before they bite. What are we supposed to do to keep our furbabies and ourselves from being bit. They’re coming at us like fleas… Constant

    • Michelle Katz

      While your vet can help you find what works best for you in your area there is a collar that is new to the market. I am a Vet Assistant on Martha’s Vineyard. We have major issues with flea and tick preventatives not working properly because the insects develop resistances just like bacteria and viruses.

      We recommend the Seresto flea and tick collar! It’s not like other flea and tick collars out there! The medicine is inside so there is no gross powder that gets on your hands! It’s water proof and safe to use around children. It also does something many products do not.. Stops the ticks before they bite! You may see them in the fur but they will be dead before they touch your pets skin! When this product is used properly it is the best defense out there!!

  • tonyia

    My son was recently diagnosed with Lyme’s! Its been a night mare!

  • tonyia

    Can’t they spray something to kill these things already!

  • bosoxinny

    I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease 2 years ago. Although I did receive a 30 day run of doxycycline, I don’t, and probably never will, feel like myself ever again. My joints are always ‘clicking’ (never had before….ever), my muscles hurt a a lot of the time…..different things I notice that never took place before.

    • flyinhawaiin

      If your joints still hurt and your muscles hurt you still have Lyme disease.Go see an epidemiologist.YOU HAVE LYME DISEASE>
      I was on Doxycycline for 7 months because I had the disease 7 months before it was diagnosed because the eastern Blot test sucks and the doctor said I didn’t have it. An Epidemiologist diagnosed it. Now I have Rhuematoid Arthritus but my muscles don’t hurt..

      • teaberryboo

        As anyone who has ever run blots will tell you, an Eastern blot is when you put the lid of the gel apparatus on incorrectly and blow your samples out into the running buffer, what you’re referring to a Western blot. They’re not 100% accurate as you found out. Interesting that you can spell epidemiologist and doxycycline but not Rheumatoid Arthritis………
        Fully half of the people who have Lyme are seronegative so if you know you’ve been bitten by a deer tick, insist on antibiotics. I was bitten 12 years ago, had a weakly positive ELISA test and the Western blot only showed one reactive band. I insisted on antibiotics and three days in had all the symptoms of Lyme and a second Western blot run later showed multiple bands, confirming the disease.

  • SunburnedWelder

    Contrary to popular opinion, the deer are not really the problem when it comes to Lyme disease. Even if we extensively depopulated them we would only minimally impact the black-legged tick and the incidence of Lyme disease. In the grand
    scheme of things, the problem is the white-footed mouse, which is the primary reservoir of the spirochete that causes Lyme disease. The real problem is not the growth in the white-tail population, but the dwindling populations of raptors and small carnivores in areas with a high rural-urban and rural-suburban interface. For anyone interested, the book “Spillover” by David Quammen (sp?) contains a great discussion of the complicated life cycle of the Ixodes ticks and the relationship between them, the white-footed mouse, the white-tailed deer, and the Lyme disease-causing bacteria. Or google “ticks and mice” and you’ll get links to some short but nice articles on the subject.

  • Richard Brewer

    I’ve got bitten by 4 ticks 4 days in a row so far I’m ok and if you wanna say to hell with the trees is what your saying when you say to hell with the tree huggers the that’s not to smart seeing how we need them

  • Richard Brewer

    And the river is on the other side of the road

  • wrestler79

    Can we please catch as many as possible and send them to meathead Cuomo?

  • Jackie

    I have lyme and it ruined my life. I have nerve damage, short term memory loss, arthalgia, myalgia, swollen joints, etc. It literally sucks the life out of you. And there is no cure for people who have chronic lyme like me. So I get to live my life at 44 years of age, feeling like I’m 80. They need to do something. Animals are getting it too. Spray the deer areas and woods.

  • Vermontist

    DDT not sounding so bad now is it?

  • DuchessofNYC

    People need to stop shooting coyotes and other predators of mice and deer. Mice are running rampant upstate

  • zack

    The virus probably was originated from plumb island rate off the coast of long island

  • Luxomni

    Is this another gift from the research center at Plum Island?

  • Carol

    Devastating news for me and my family as we live in the Hudson Valley.

  • Mary

    Have already removed one of these from my husband and one of our cats. We are in Central NY state.

  • Matt Rømanchick

    It’d be nice if they listed some signs and symptoms of the virus. How are we supposed to know if we even have it?