Archive for the ‘Ticks’ Category

New Study: The Hidden Ways Microbes Control Tick Behavior

New Study: The Hidden Ways Microbes Control Tick Behavior

New Study: The Hidden Ways Microbes Control Tick Behavior

by Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio
Posted 9/17/20

We’ve heard a lot of late about an increase in Lyme disease cases, but tick-borne diseases of all kinds — including babesiosis, anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis, and others — are on the rise throughout the United States, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least part of the increase in tick-borne illnesses can be traced to an expanding tick population, caused by several factors including changes in climate patterns and the development of housing into wooded areas, creating closer interactions between people, animals, and ticks.

But what if there’s also an unseen force at work compelling ticks to act out or present with certain behaviors that give them a leg up when it comes to their own survival — and that of the microbes they carry? New research suggests that perhaps there’s more to this story than we know.

First, a Basic Overview of Ticks On the Hunt

More than four decades after the first cases of Lyme disease were diagnosed, we’re still learning about tick behavior and why they operate in the way they do. We know that blood hosts like humans and animals are critical for tick survival, so ticks are regularly on the prowl.

A tick’s vision isn’t very good, so they rely on other sensory components to find food sources. Located on the first pairs of ticks’ legs are tiny structures called Haller’s organs. These organs are found only on ticks, and it is believed that they function somewhat like antennae and utilize the sense of smell to detect odors wafting through the air to find unsuspecting hosts.

Using their Haller’s organs, ticks detect the carbon dioxide (CO2) that comes from human respiration and breathing — they can sense other chemicals like ammonia and pheromones, too. While certain ticks, like the Lone Star tick, can aggressively charge potential human hosts, most prefer a more subtle approach: Waiting patiently on blades of grass or areas of brush until you approach them, an activity known as “questing.”

diagram of tick biology

When a tick quests, they grip the blade of grass or brush with their back legs and stretch their front legs into the air. In due time, a human or animal walks past, and they latch on, using the front legs to ascend their new host and search for a suitable spot to begin feeding.

As weird and as sci-fi as all this sounds, emerging research from Giovanni Benelli, PhD, Senior Research Entomologist at the University of Pisa in Pisa, Italy, has begun to shed light on microscopic agents that exert influence upon ticks’ hunting behavior. Interestingly, it’s the very microbes we work so hard to avoid that play puppeteer to their tick hosts.

6 Microbes that Manipulate Tick Behavior

In August 2020, Benelli published a new review in the journal Pathogens investigating whether microbes Anaplasma, Borrelia, Babesia, Bartonella, Rickettsia, and tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) were involved in influencing tick behavior and adaptive significance (traits that affect a tick’s reproductive success). Pathogenic manipulation — such as an increase in biting frequency and duration and changing host-borne odors to make them more appealing meals for other arthropods like mosquitos and sand flies — has already been noted in scientific literature.

In regards to ticks, Bellini’s data suggests modes of pathogen-tick manipulation may include physiological changes, tolerance to extreme temperatures, and enhanced survivability, among others. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the key highlights of Benelli’s research, a wealth of further insights into tick behavior that could be a crucial factor in helping to curtail the bugs’ proliferation and their ability to spread chronic illnesses.

1. How Borrelia Impacts Tick Behavior

Borrelia is the bacteria implicated in Lyme disease. In the United States, Borrelia burgdorferi is the species that’s found in black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) or deer ticks. However, in Europe, the predominant Lyme disease-carrying tick is the castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus).

Borrelia infection in the blood. Borrelia bacteria cause borreliose, transmitted by ticks and by lice.

Borrelia may manipulate tick behavior in both tick species, according to Bellini’s review. Here are some of his key findings:

Key Findings:

  • Black-legged nymph ticks infected with B. burgdorferi showed enhanced movement toward or away from light sources (phototaxis).
  • Nymph ticks infected with B. burgdorferi demonstrated an affinity for vertical surfaces such as the top layers of leaf litter piles or plant vegetation like blades of grass, which may provide them with more opportunities to come into contact with hosts.
  • B. burgdorferi stimulated tick histamine release factor (tHRF), the chemical that regulates vascular permeability and improves blood flow to the site of the bite for feeding.
  • Infected adult black-legged ticks had slower mobility than their non-infected counterparts. However, research is unclear whether this is a behavior adaptation resulting from B. burgdorferi.
  • Castor bean nymph ticks exposed to extremely dry conditions showed they were more active and more resistant to harsh conditions than those that were not carrying the pathogen.
  • Nymph ticks carrying a strain of Borrelia known as Borrelia afzelii (a European strain known for its ability to affect the central nervous system) had increased rates of mobility, including duration and speed of movement, over non-infected ones.

The Takeaway

Indeed B. burgdorferi may manipulate tick behavior in several ways, but Bellini acknowledges that further research is needed to determine how these behaviors contribute to disease and how the data can be used to slow the spread of ticks and prevent the transmission of Lyme disease.

2. How Anaplasma Affects Tick Behavior

All ticks, including the black-legged tick, carry multiple disease-causing microbes known as coinfections. One such microbe is Anaplasma phagocytophilum, previously called human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE). When a tick is infected with A. phagocytophilum, it may demonstrate behavioral changes that influence survival, questing, and feeding.

Anaplasma microbe, microscope view

The following three are important points to note from Bellini’s research:

Key Findings

  • A. phagocytophilum-infected black-legged ticks create heat shock proteins in response to stressful environmental circumstances. This makes them more resilient to extremely dry environments and boosts their survivability rates.
  • In the non-infected tick population, cold temperatures can raise the tick mortality rate. But ticks that have been infected with A. phagocytophilum have an advantage — they manufacture an antifreeze glycoprotein that guards them against the cold.
  • A. phagocytophilum is present in the salivary glands of ticks, and it inhibits cellular death to allow for the infection to be transmitted from the tick’s vector to the host, fostering more effective feeding and greater survival.

The Takeaway

The relationship between A. phagocytophilum and tick manipulation is a better-researched interaction than that of other ticks and pathogens. The mechanisms by which A. phagocytophilum alters the behavior of the tick are more apparent in terms of how it augments tick reproduction and survivability. However, when it comes to other species of Anaplasma that may impact humans or animals, more research is needed.

3. How Babesia Affects Tick Behavior

Babesia is a distant cousin of malaria and a less virulent microbe, comparatively. Babesia may occur in up to 40% of people infected with Lyme disease, indicates a report in Trends in Parasitology, making it a relatively common coinfection. The species of Babesia that are most likely to pose a disease risk to humans are Babesia microti, Babesia divergins, and Babesia ducani (WA-1).

Babesia microbe, zoomed view, round

Regarding Benelli’s review, only a few studies have looked at the effects Babesia may have on tick behavior, but he noted the following:

Key Findings

  • B. microti maximized the success of feeding and strengthened the survival of shrew ticks (Ixodes trianguliceps), but these modifications didn’t correlate with the strain’s infection rates.
  • In animal studies, B microti delayed the amount of time it took for a tick to become engorged.
  • Nymph ticks that fed on infected hosts had a higher body weight than those that fed on non-infected ones.
  • Larvae who fed on infected hosts shed their skin more quickly (a process known as molting) than those that fed on non-infected ones.

The Takeaway

At present, the research on Babesia species and their ability to manipulate tick behavior is scant. The processes that encourage feeding, development, and the survival of ticks infected with Babesia have yet to be determined.

4 & 5. How Bartonella and Rickettsia Affect Tick Behavior

Rickettsia microbe, zoomed in microscope view

Although Bartonella, a common coinfection found in people with Lyme, and Rickettsia, a highly virulent and life-threatening microbe, can pose serious health risks to humans, little is known about the behavioral changes these infections may have on tick behavior. A few points worthy of consideration include:

Key Findings

  • Bartonella-infected castor bean ticks had an increase in a component called Ixodes ricinusserine protease inhibitor (IrSPI). This enzyme inhibitor is involved in such biological processes as inflammation, blood clotting, wound healing, constricting blood vessels, and altering hosts’ defense systems.
  • Rickettsia-infected ticks demonstrated a greater inclination towards electromagnetic fields than non-infected ones.

The Takeaway

Like Babesia, the research on Bartonella- and Rickettsia-infected ticks is minimal. However, because annual incidences are on the rise, continued investigation in this area has the potential to bring about crucial information for the benefit of public health.

6. How Tick-Borne Encephalitis Virus Affects Tick Behavior

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBEV) is a viral infection spread through the bite of an infected tick. The virus resides throughout Europe and Asia, according to the CDC, making the infection relatively unknown in the U.S.

Encephalitis microbe, zoomed in microscope view

Between 20% and 30% of people who acquire the infection develop symptoms that affect the nervous system. Evidence for two hypotheses suggest the virus can manipulate tick behavior in the following ways:

Key Findings

  • TBEV intensifies tick movement and the ability to find a host.
    Feeding results in higher concentrations of TBEV.
  • When a TBEV-infected tick is unfed, the concentration of the virus remains low. But when the tick feeds, the TBEV titers raise to reach detectable levels.
  • A percentage (6%) of TBEV-infected adult castor bean ticks can navigate DEET-covered areas with a 1% formulation. In contrast, uninfected ticks were unable to cross these areas.


In general, ticks infected with TBEV demonstrated enhanced tick mobility, including walking speed and duration, and a proclivity toward higher questing heights. These changes may lead to greater outcomes when it comes to tick and microbe survivability.

Putting It All Together

There’s no doubt that’s an incredible amount of information to take it in. But this valuable data sets the stage for the urgent need for ongoing research when it comes to understanding how pathogens affect and modify tick behavior.

There is a wide array of tick species worldwide, and countless disease-causing pathogens that pose a threat to human health. Tracking behavioral changes in infected and non-infected ticks could one day lead to positive, new developments for halting the spread of tick-borne diseases.

In the meantime, your best bet is to practice good tick-prevention strategies like doing regular tick checks when coming in from the outdoors, wearing permethrin-treating shoes and clothing, and promptly removing attached ticks with a pair of fine-pointed tweezers. 


1. Alberdi P, Espinosa PJ, Cabezas-Cruz A, de la Fuente J. Anaplasma phagocytophilum Manipulates Host Cell Apoptosis by Different Mechanisms to Establish Infection. Vet Sci. 2016;3(3):15. Published 2016 Jul 15. doi: 10.3390/vetsci3030015
2. Benelli G. Pathogens Manipulating Tick Behavior-Through a Glass, Darkly. Pathogens. 2020;9(8):E664. Published 2020 Aug 17. doi: 10.3390/pathogens9080664
3. Blisnick AA, Šimo L, Grillon C, et al. The Immunomodulatory Effect of IrSPI, a Tick Salivary Gland Serine Protease Inhibitor Involved in Ixodes ricinus Tick Feeding. Vaccines (Basel). 2019;7(4):148. Published 2019 Oct 12. doi: 10.3390/vaccines7040148
4. Carr AL, Mitchell RD III, Dhammi A, Bissinger BW, Sonenshine DE, Roe RM. Tick Haller’s Organ, a New Paradigm for Arthropod Olfaction: How Ticks Differ from Insects. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(7):1563. Published 2017 Jul 18. doi: 10.3390/ijms18071563
5. Dai J, Narasimhan S, Zhang L, Liu L, Wang P, Fikrig E. Tick histamine release factor is critical for Ixodes scapularis engorgement and transmission of the lyme disease agent. PLoS Pathog. 2010;6(11):e1001205. Published 2010 Nov 24. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001205
6. Lyme and Other Tickborne Diseases Increasing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.,59%2C349%20reported%20cases%20in%202017.
7. Tick-borne encephalitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.,headache%2C%20nausea%2C%20and%20vomiting
This explains a lot – if only mainstream medicine/research will listen instead of conducting more climate data. It also makes sense.
It is commonly known that parasites affect behavior:

Parasites are a whole new fantastical frontier. I’ll never forget this information on how parasites affect human behavior by Dr. Klinghardt, which I found here:

  • Parasite patients often express the psyche of the parasites – sticky, clingy, impossible to tolerate – but a wonderful human being is behind all of that.

  • We are all a composite of many personalities. Chronic infections outnumber our own cells by 10:1. We are 90% “other” and 10% “us”. Our consciousness is a composite of 90% microbes and 10% us.

  • Our thinking, feeling, creativity, and expression are 90% from the microbes within us. Patients often think, crave, and behave as if they are the parasite.

  • Our thinking is shaded by the microbes thinking through us. The food choices, behavioral choices, and who we like is the thinking of the microbes within us expressing themselves.

  • Patients will reject all treatments that affect the issue that requires treating.

  • Patients will not guide themselves to health when the microbes have taken over.

It only follows that parasites will affect tick behavior as well.

FREE CME Courses on Tick-borne Illness  Go here for modules

Evidence-based education for health professionals

Tick-borne illness explained

If you are a health professional, please take advantage of these FREE CME courses.  There are 9 modules with more being added continually.

Also, if you are a patient and your doctor is interested, please give them this letter:

This includes mental health professionals as well:

For more:

If you are a patient who is having trouble getting treatment, please print off this letter for your physician:

Lyme Disease Facts For Deer Hunters

Greg Miller

Lyme Disease Facts for Deer Hunters

We’ll tell you where ticks are most commonly found, how to deal with them, and what Lyme symptoms are often overlooked. 

Lyme disease has become a major concern in recent years, and for some very good reasons. Left untreated, the disease can cause serious health issues that may linger throughout a person’s lifetime.

I actually haven’t kept track of exactly how many times I’ve had Lyme disease. But suffice to say that I know for a fact that I’ve had it at least a half-dozen times. Some of the cases were severe, some not very severe, and some were in the middle.

My most recent and serious bout with Lyme disease occurred a couple years ago, and get this — the medical people who treated me for the disease on that occasion believe that I may actually have been bitten by a deer fly, not a tick. (See link for article)



Great article and very practical advice from an experience hunter who shares space with ticks.

My only caution is waiting to get to a medical professional to remove a tick. Time is of the essence regarding ticks and the illnesses they transmit. See this article for more prevention tips and how to properly remove a tick.

Also, he mentions only hot water will kill ticks. I’ve been told by entomologists that water/soap will not kill ticks at all.  It’s the high, dry heat of the dryer that will kill them.  I call it “Fry and die.” (This says 6 minutes will do it but 10-15 is safe)

Before washing, stick your clothes in the dryer first, then you can wash them if they need it.  I usually rewear these pretreated clothes a few times before I wash them to prolong the repellent.  Make sure to spray your socks and shoes as well as your hat and shirt.  Basically – anything that could brush up against trees and shrubs and grass/plants.

The author brings out many important points:

  • doctors believe he got Lyme from a Lipoptena cervi, the deer ked or deer fly, a species of biting fly that have been introduced to North America.[2] They are parasites of elk, deer, and other deer family members, burrowing through the fur and sucking the blood of the host animals.  The bite hurts like hell.  For the most part authorities deny they can transmit Lyme but they carry both Lyme and Anaplasma.  This is another area of research that desperately needs to be done as ‘authorities’ are relying on ancient 30 year work covered in an inch of dust.  But, again, this work isn’t sexy like ‘climate change,’ which is a moot point:
  • the author found ticks in unlikely places during unlikely weather when it’s cold with snow on the ground.  This again proves that ticks are impervious to weather.  
  • he mentions, rightly, that many never get a rash or that it looks different from the ‘classic bullseye’ rash ‘authorities’ keep insisting on.  There is a picture of the rash he obtained which actually caused bruising.
  • he also rightly mentions that many may get all the characteristic symptoms of Lyme or just a few.
  • he doesn’t mention keeping the tick for testing, which is a good thing to consider.  Many states have free tick testing – but Wisconsin (4th in the nation for Lyme) doesn’t.  This article is a great resource.  Keep it somewhere safe so you can refer to it should you get bitten:
  • he also doesn’t mention that the bullseye rash is diagnostic for Lyme disease.  In other words if you get it, YOU HAVE LYME.  On the other hand, if you don’t get it, YOU COULD STILL HAVE LYME. You could also be infected with other things as well:
  • testing for all things tick-borne related is abysmal and should not be solely used for diagnosis:
  • due to the devastation Lyme/MSIDS can cause, many Lyme literate doctors suggest considering prophylactic treatment for black-legged tick bites.  Everyone admits that prompt diagnosis and treatment is key for treatment success yet mainstream medicine continues to take a “wait and see” approach which only delays things.
  • he correctly states:

It is not uncommon for Lyme disease to be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, mononucleosis, ulcerative colitis, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease or fibromyalgia. Misdiagnosis can mean not getting treatment, or worse, getting treatment for the wrong ailment.








Have/Had Powassan? You Can Help These Researchers Out

Were you ever infected with Powassan? These researchers want to know.Fallon and MacDonald

Powassan virus, a tick-borne illness, can cause serious neurological problems that are sometimes fatal. It’s transmitted to humans by Ixodes ticks—the same ones that can carry Lyme disease. But much is unknown about Powassan, something that researchers want to change.

Dr. Margaret MacDonald is a physician and researcher at Rockefeller University in New York City. She’s Principal Investigator of a study of neutralizing antibodies and Powassan virus infections. One of her collaborators is Dr. Brian Fallon, director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia University.

In the following blog, Dr. Fallon interviews Dr. MacDonald about neutralizing antibodies, Powassan virus, and COVID-19.

If you have had Powassan virus infection, you may be able to help with this important study. See links at the end of the article for more information about how you can do that.

Dr. Fallon: Can you describe the similarities between COVID-19 and Powassan infection?  

Dr. MacDonald: While the viruses that cause COVID-19 and Powassan infection are in completely different families, they do have some similarities, one of which is that they both use a molecule called ribonucleic acid (RNA) to encode their genetic material.

One property that both viruses share is that they don’t always cause obvious disease and some infected people may never know they were even infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 40% of SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals have no symptoms. SARS-CoV-2 was only recently identified while POWV was first discovered in North America in 1958.

Despite the fact that POWV has been around much longer than COVID-19, there is actually less information about how many people are infected each year and what percentage of them have symptoms, because unless someone has serious symptoms, they are never tested.

But we do know that in some regions of the United States about 2-3% of ticks that carry POWV infection are infected and that transmission after a tick bite can occur within 15 minutes. Although nationally cases of Powassan encephalitis have been increasing in recent years, there are still only about 20-30 reported cases each year, suggesting that there are quite a few people who have been infected but who do not develop symptoms.

SARS-CoV-2 usually presents as a respiratory illness, but we know it can affect multiple systems of the body. POWV typically starts as a nonspecific flu-like illness that progresses to an infection of the central nervous system with inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the fluid surrounding the brain (meningitis). SARS-CoV-2 can also cause encephalitis and meningitis, but this is not typical.

Both viruses may share similar initial symptoms including fever and chills, sore throat, headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, and muscle ache. There also can be neurological symptoms in both diseases; shared symptoms include gait disturbances, decreased level of consciousness, hallucinations and seizures. Respiratory failure can occur in either disease, although for different underlying reasons.

Can you describe the differences between COVID-19 and POWV infection?

There are a number of differences between SARS-CoV-2 and POWV. The RNA genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 is longer than POWV (~30,000 bases long compared to ~11,000) and encodes more proteins (29 compared to 10) and while still really tiny, the SARS-CoV-2 virion is about twice the size of POWV.

To start the infection, the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binds a protein (the receptor) on the surface of your cells called angiotensin converting enzyme 2, or ACE2. Another of your proteins, abbreviated TMPRSS2, helps the spike protein, allowing the virus to gain entry to the cell. The receptor for POWV is unknown, but presumably it is not ACE2. Once inside the cell, the two viruses use very different strategies to make viral proteins and new copies of their RNA.

How these two viruses infect us is completely different! As you know, COVID-19 is spread from person to person when an infected person breathes or coughs, expelling SARS-CoV-2 that makes its way into another person through inhalation, or exposure to the mouth, nose or eyes. It is believed that virus can also survive for some time on surfaces, which if you touch the surface and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes can result in infection.

On the other hand, POWV does not spread from person to person, except in rare circumstances such as transfusion of blood originating from an infected person. Instead, POWV is spread through the bite of an infected Ixodes species tick, very much like in Lyme disease. In fact, the same tick may carry both Borreliaburgdorferi and POWV.

SARS-CoV-2 and POWV also can cause different symptoms.  SARS-CoV-2 infection starts in the respiratory tract. Symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 are the result of both direct infection of cells in the body as well as the inflammation that occurs in response to the infection and effects on the coagulation system.

This later effect can result in blood clots in the smaller arteries that can affect the blood flow to and thus function of organs such as the lungs, heart and kidneys and can also cause skin rashes, strokes and heart attacks. The infection of cells in the lung combined with the inflammatory process results in respiratory distress with poor oxygenation of the blood and difficulty breathing, and mechanical ventilation can be required to support the patient.

A prominent symptom in COVID-19 is the loss of taste and/or smell, as well as congestion or runny nose. The long-term effect on the function of the affected organs is not yet known, but patients have reported continued symptoms of weakness, muscle aches, headaches, rash, shortness of breath and abnormal heart rate even weeks after recovery.

POWV infection presumably starts in the skin at the site of the tick bite. Based on what is known about other virus family members, it may replicate in lymph nodes, gain access to the blood and subsequently the brain. Powassan disease in the brain occurs after a 1-2 day flu-like illness and can present with a wide variety of neurological symptoms including paralysis or weakness of one or more limbs, or of the muscles controlling the eyes or parts of the face, tremors and twitching, inability to talk, and abnormal jerking eye movements. Confusion and varying degrees of a depressed level of consciousness including coma are common.

While these symptoms can be seen in SARS-CoV-2 infection, they are not as common. POWV doesn’t cause pneumonia, but respiratory failure due to infection of the region of the brain that controls breathing can result in the need for mechanical ventilation. Long term residual symptoms are common after Powassan encephalitis, and include memory difficulties, headache, difficulty speaking, imbalance, and weakness or paralysis of limbs or muscles of the eyes.

Most people had never heard of “neutralizing antibodies” before COVID-19.  Can you explain to us what “neutralizing antibodies” are? How do they differ from the regular antibodies that the body generates to fight infection? Why are some antibodies more effective as virus killers than other antibodies?  

Antibodies are proteins secreted by special immune cells called B cells. Each B cell makes its own unique antibody, which can work in different ways to fight infection. One way is for the antibody to bind the invader which then allows the early immune response cells (phagocytes) to gobble up the invader. Another way is for the antibody to bind and activate a defense program called complement, which can destroy cells containing the invading microbe. A third way antibodies work is to bind to the invader and block it from infecting your cells. This is called neutralization.

Neutralizing antibodies therefore are especially potent in fighting infection because they target and neutralize the invading microbe directly. To block infection requires that the antibody be specific for a part of the invader that is required for entry into the cell, which in the case of SARS-CoV-2, would be the spike protein. Antibodies that bind the spike protein and prevent it from interacting with the ACE2 receptor can block infection of your cells before it even gets started.

One of the big questions with vaccine research is always how long will the antibodies last in the blood that can protect us against the virus or bacterial infection?   If a vaccine is developed against POWV that creates neutralizing antibodies, would these antibodies last months or years?  What about with COVID-19?  Will we need frequent booster shots?

This is one of those million-dollar questions and likely ultimately depends on the type of vaccine that ends up being developed. The good news is that many different approaches are being used for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines that are in the development pipeline. It is not clear to me what makes antibodies last longer for some infections or vaccines than others. Antibody responses to the live-attenuated yellow fever virus vaccine can persist for years and that vaccine can protect you for 10 years or even longer.

Yellow fever is in the same family as POWV, so there is a chance that if a similar vaccine were developed for POWV, that the antibodies could last a long time and boosters would not be necessary. But natural infection with viruses in this family tends to result in good protection against that specific virus.

This is not necessarily true for viruses in the same family as SARS-CoV-2. We know that people can be infected with a SARS-CoV-2 relative that causes the common cold and get infected multiple times with the same virus. Antibodies in the blood after the SARS outbreak, caused by the related SARS-CoV-1, lasted 2-3 years. Early indications are that SARS-CoV-2 vaccination can induce responses that are robust, but how well and how long they protect is anyone’s guess and this will just need to be studied.

Powassan Virus can cause very serious neurologic consequences in those individuals that get encephalitis.  It now seems that the coronavirus may also be causing a wide range of neurologic problems. Do you know whether they attack the nerve cells in the same way?

POWV likes to infect nerve cells so once it gains access to cells of the brain or spinal cord it can directly cause damage that results in the symptoms the patient is suffering. This damage to the nerve cells likely explains the long-term symptoms that these patients can have.

Since SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in brain tissue, it is quite possible that direct infection of the nerve cells may underlie some of the neurological symptoms of COVID-19. However, there are other mechanisms of neurologic disease currently under investigation that likely contribute to the neurological symptoms, including abnormal clotting in small vessels, reduced oxygen flow to the brain, and the damaging effects of the inflammatory process.

You are doing a Powassan virus study now and you need to find people with prior Powassan virus infection. Please tell us about this and how these individuals can help you. What do they need to do to participate?

Yes, we are looking for people who have had POWV infection.  Some of these recovered individuals will still have POWV-specific B cells and neutralizing antibodies in their blood.  We study the antibodies to the POWV envelope protein, which is the target of most neutralizing antibodies against viruses in this family. We will identify the antibodies that have the strongest binding and neutralizing capacity. We will then identify where the binding occurs on the virus – ie, which protein on the virus surface is the most important in triggering the production of these potent antibodies.

This information can help us design a vaccine. These antibodies also would be good candidates as a treatment to administer to someone with Powassan virus encephalitis, much like the use of SARS-CoV-2 convalescent serum that has been used for COVID-19 patients that you may have read about in the news.

Our study may lead to a critical public health breakthrough. However, we can’t study antibody responses to POWV unless we have volunteers who have been infected with POWV. If the reader of this blog has had POWV infection or knows someone who has had POWV infection, please take note of how to participate.

Interested individuals simply need to call the Rockefeller University Hospital Recruitment Office at 1-800-RU-CARES (782-2737). Or, individuals can email us at or visit our website at   

After the initial contact, we will ask for documentation of the prior POWV infection. We will explain the study in detail and the participant will be asked to sign a consent form that they agree to participate in our study. Then, they would fill out a medical questionnaire and would donate a volume of blood that is similar to the amount given in a blood donation, such as for the Red Cross.

The consent process and blood donation typically would occur at the Rockefeller University Hospital in New York City, but we are also open to working with volunteers from outside our area to arrange for the blood to be drawn elsewhere and shipped to us for our study.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy for so many throughout the world, one result of this experience is to highlight the importance of public health preparedness. While POWV infection is currently rare in the United States, the reports of human disease have been increasing over the last decade. One study documented that in 1980 less than 10% of deer in the Northeast had been infected, while in 2009 this had risen to ~90%.  The rising infection rate in deer may be an early signal that POWV infection in humans may be more of a problem in the future.  Our study aims to enhance POWV public health preparedness through early development of a vaccine and treatment.

As part of our mission to accelerate research of tick-borne illnesses, periodically highlights studies that seek patient participation.

How To Treat Acute Tick Bites

By Dr. Marty Ross

acute tick bite treatment image

Safely Remove The Tick

The best way to remove a tick is to grab the tick at the head using tweezers. Pull up slowly and carefully. This method limits the chances that an attached tick will vomit Lyme germs into the tick bite area. Other methods, like burning a tick off, increase the chances of Lyme disease transmission from an infected tick.

Decide if You Should Take Antibiotics for a Tick Bite

The reason to use antibiotics for a tick bite is to prevent acute or chronic Lyme disease from the bite of a black legged deer tick.  (See link for article)