WHAT IS POWASSAN VIRUS?
The Powassan virus is a tick-borne illness transmitted by the same tick that harbors the Lyme disease bacterium. Although it is still considered rare, the number of cases is growing and if contracted the virus can have devastating and long-lasting effects.
In their article “Underrecognized Tickborne Illnesses: Borrelia Miyamotoi and Powassan Virus,” Della-Giustina et al. explain what is the Powassan virus and why it’s raising concerns.
“We chose to review the Powassan virus because it only requires 15 min. of tick attachment for transmission, and the sequelae of the neurologic disease are devastating, in addition to a 10% mortality rate.”¹
What is Powassan virus?
The Powassan virus (POW) is a tick-borne flavivirus that is related to other viruses including: dengue, yellow fever, West Nile encephalitis, and tick-borne encephalitis (primarily found in Europe). “Flaviviruses are a group of single stranded RNA viruses that cause severe endemic infection and epidemics on a global scale.”²
In recent years, other viruses transmitted by ticks have been identified including the Heartland virus (phlebovirus) and the Bourbon virus (thogotovirus).
POW is very similar genetically to the deer tick virus and the clinical presentations are identical.
How was it discovered?
Powassan was first discovered in the brain of a young child.
“Powassan virus is named for the Ontario, Canada, town where it was ﬁrst isolated from the brain of a 5-year-old boy who died of severe encephalitis in 1958,” the authors write.
Where is it?
The second case was reported in New Jersey (1970) and then another in eastern Russia (1978). Although, there have been no reported cases in other countries, the virus has been identified in a growing number of states.
In 2019, 13 U.S. states reported cases: Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
Ticks infected with Powassan virus can transmit the disease in only 15 minutes, causing long-lasting neurologic problems in some individuals, in addition to a 10% mortality rate.
How is the virus transmitted?
The Powassan virus is carried and transmitted by Ixodes scapularis ticks, also known as deer ticks or blacklegged ticks. These ticks can also transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria which causes Lyme disease.
“Although many flaviviruses have mosquitos as competent vectors, there is no evidence of human POW virus disease transmitted by mosquitos,” the authors point out.
How fast can Powassan virus be transmitted?
Very fast. “Transmission in mice has been shown to occur within 15 min. of I. scapularis attachment,” the authors write.
This rapid transmission occurs because the virus is already present in the salivary glands, compared to other non-viral tick-borne diseases where the pathogen is typically harbored in the tick’s mid-gut.
What is the typical clinical presentation?
“Few people who become infected with the POW virus have clinically signiﬁcant disease,” the authors write.
However, in some cases, “a Powassan infection can lead to disorientation, headache, neck stiffness, fever up to 40°C, clonus, ocular, and other motor palsies, obtundation and convulsions, and can mimic herpes simplex encephalitis.”
Can Powassan virus be serious?
“Approximately 50% of cases result in lasting hemiplegia, memory problems, and muscle wasting,” the authors explain.
“Ten percent of cases are fatal.”
Are there tests for it?
A PCR test is only positive in early stages of a Powassan infection. “IgG by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay is the mainstay of diagnosis, but conﬁrmation requires specialized testing,” write the authors.
Why are co-infections important?
Treatable tick-borne co-infections may be present. The authors describe a patient with a combination of Powassan encephalitis, Lyme carditis, and Babesia.
Yoon and colleagues described the case of a 17-year-old young man who died waiting for a Powassan virus test.³ He was not treated for a co-infection with Lyme disease. His autopsy showed Borrelia spirochetes, which cause Lyme disease, in his heart and liver. He also had PCR evidence of spirochetes in his brain and lungs.
What is the treatment for a Powassan infection?
There is no treatment for a Powassan virus infection other than supportive care.
- Della-Giustina D, Duke C, Goldflam K. Underrecognized Tickborne Illnesses: Borrelia Miyamotoi and Powassan Virus. Wilderness Environ Med. Jun 2021;32(2):240-246. doi:10.1016/j.wem.2021.01.005
- Chong HY, Leow CY, Abdul Majeed AB, Leow CH. Flavivirus infection-A review of immunopathogenesis, immunological response, and immunodiagnosis. Virus Res. 2019 Dec;274:197770. doi: 10.1016/j.virusres.2019.197770. Epub 2019 Oct 15. PMID: 31626874.
- Yoon EC, Vail E, Kleinman G, et al. Lyme disease: a case report of a 17-year-old male with fatal Lyme carditis. Cardiovasc Pathol. Sep-Oct 2015;24(5):317-21. doi:10.1016/j.carpath.2015.03.003
Regarding transmission time – ALL pathogens can reside in the salivary glands of ticks due to partial feeding, which will result in quicker transmission times, but this fact is continually downplayed: https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2019/04/26/three-strains-of-borrelia-other-pathogens-found-in-salivary-glands-of-ixodes-ticks-suggesting-quicker-transmission-time/
It’s also important to note that minimum transmission times have NEVER been established: https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2017/04/14/transmission-time-for-lymemsids-infection/
https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2021/06/01/cdc-lying-again-tuttle-drops-the-mic/ Within this important letter, Lyme advocate Carl Tuttle shows rapid transmission has occurred in under 4 hours:
- Clinical evidence for rapid transmission of Lyme disease following a tick bite: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0732889311004159?via%3Dihub
- B. Patmas, MA, Remora, C. Disseminated Lyme Disease After Short-Duration Tick Bite. JSTD 1994; 1:77-78: https://www.lymedisease.org/hard-science-on-lyme-ticks-can-transmit-infection-the-first-day/
- Lyme borreliosis: a review of data on transmission time after tick attachment: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4278789/ The claims that removal of ticks within 24 hours or 48 hours of attachment will effectively prevent LB are not supported by the published data, and the minimum tick attachment time for transmission of LB in humans has never been established.
- Regarding Tick Attachment Times – https://history.nih.gov/display/history/Burgdorfer%2C+Willy+1986
There are about 5 to 10 percent of infected ticks that have a generalized infection, including salivary glands and saliva at the time of attachment. In such cases, transmission of spirochetes would and does occur immediately at time of attachment.” —Willy Burgdorfer
According to this study by Coppe Labs, right here in Wisconsin, 85% of Powassan infected ticks come from Northern Wisconsin. Another study by Coppe showed that when 95 patients were tested for suspected tick-borne disease, 66% showed evidence of current or prior Lyme infection. Of those patients, 17% had serologic evidence of acute POWV infection, demonstrating that POWV may affect more patients than we know.
For more on Powassan:
Powassan is NOT rare:
For the last two years, Coppe Laboratories has dedicated a significant amount of time and resources to dispelling the myth that infection with Powassan virus, a virus transmitted by tick bite, is rare. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reports only 100 cases of Powassan virus infection in the United States in the last 10 years. Indeed, that statistic gives the illusion that Powassan infection is rare. However, did you know that the only infections reported to CDC are those that are life-threatening, particularly cases causing severe inflammation of the brain like the case reported in LiveScience? Coppe has published three new papers in the last year that clearly show Powassan virus infection is not rare are at all, and until testing for this virus is included as part of tick-borne disease screening panels infections will continue to be underreported. Coppe’s Powassan Guide, which can be downloaded from the website, summarizes the findings from both tick and human Powassan prevalence studies, as well as defining the patient populations that would benefit most from Powassan testing.