Posted: Jun. 9, 2019
One of those persons who tested positive for the virus died in May, according to officials, but the immediate cause of death has yet to be determined.
Should it be confirmed that the cause of death was the virus, it would be the first death in Sussex County and only the second confirmed fatality due to the virus in the state, according to Donna Leusner, spokesperson for the state Department of Health. It would also be only the 10th confirmed death in the United States since 2008, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The second individual confirmed to have Powassan in Sussex County is recovering at home, Leusner said.
While officials declined to disclose the names, ages or hometowns of the patients due to privacy concerns, on Friday, Dianne (Desormeaux) Rude told the New Jersey Herald she received confirmation on Monday that her father, Armand Desormeaux, 80, of Hampton, was one of those confirmed Powassan cases in Sussex County. Desormeaux passed away on May 16 at Newton Medical Center.
Rude said her father’s infectious disease doctor confirmed the diagnosis on Monday following testing done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Rude, her father, while he suffered with several medical issues over the years, was quite active up until May 6, when he began running a high fever.
Rude, who lives next door to her father on Halsey Road, took Desormeaux to the hospital, where he was checked out and released, she said. Within 12 hours, Rude said, her father’s health quickly deteriorated and he was taken by ambulance back to Newton Medical Center.
“He was having seizures, shaking uncontrollably,” Rude said.
Suspecting possible Lyme disease, Rude said her father remembered being bit by a tick around April 15 while he was gardening, but had removed it himself and didn’t think much of it because it didn’t form a rash.
Rude said her father was suffering with tremors, violently shaking, unable to verbalize and started losing the ability to move his limbs. While her father had previously been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a progressive lung disease, Rude said his symptoms made sense when she received the call Monday that he had the tick-borne disease.
The Powassan virus, named after the Ontario community where it was first discovered in 1958, is spread through the bite of an infected black-legged, or deer, tick, which caries Lyme disease, or the woodchuck tick, according to a press release sent to the New Jersey Herald from the Sussex County Department of Health.
While some people do not develop any symptoms, others may develop symptoms one week to one month after being bitten. Symptoms include fever; headache; swelling of the brain, also called encephalitis; swelling of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, also known as meningitis; vomiting; weakness; seizures; fever with stiff neck; limb weakness; confusion; loss of coordination; trouble speaking; and memory loss, according to the county health department.
Those with other medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing complications from the virus. Several clinical reports indicate the virus is fatal in about 10% to 15% of cases. For the survivors, about half will suffer with permanent neurological symptoms, such as paralysis, cognitive difficulties and muscle wasting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
Rude, who posted about her father’s diagnosis on Facebook initially to friends only, said she didn’t expect to get much attention from it. But after her friends shared her post on public forums, Rude said she is glad to be “opening up a world of conversation” about a tick-borne illness that isn’t Lyme disease, which is the most commonly known.
While she continues to mourn the loss of her father, a U.S. Marine who worked as a custodian at Frankford Elementary School until his retirement in 2007, Rude believes that telling others of her father’s diagnosis could prevent others from being infected.
“Spray your yards, Frontline your animals and check yourself for ticks,” she said.
Frontline is a flea and tick protection product.
The Powassan virus is so uncommon that just one other person — a 51-year-old Warren County woman in 2013 — has died from the virus in New Jersey. Since 2013, there have only been 10 confirmed cases in the state, including the two confirmed this week in Sussex County, according to Leusner.
Nationally, there have been about 75 cases of Powassan virus reported in the past 10 years, most of the cases in the northern woodlands of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and New York.
There is no medicine or vaccine to cure or treat the virus, but there are several ways to reduce the risk of getting the virus.
When headed outdoors, avoid contact with ticks by steering clear of wooded areas with tall grass, stick to hiking in the center of a trail and apply insect repellent to clothes and gear with permethrin, a substance that incapacitates ticks and prevents them from biting. Wear long-sleeved shirts and light-colored clothes to be able to see ticks, and tuck long pants into socks. Check the body for ticks, and if one is found, remove it immediately.
It is important to seek medical attention if symptoms develop.
For more information about Powassan, visit the state Department of Health website at www.state.nj.us/health/cd/topics/powassan.shtml and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/powassan.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
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.
Coppe Laboratories offers the first commercial panel designed to detect exposure to Powassan virus throughout all stages of infection.
Powassan can be transmitted in 15 minutes, so all the comforting words by the CDC on the emphasis that transmission of Lyme takes anywhere from 24-72 hours falls flat regarding Powassan. Also, to my knowledge, no work has been done on transmission time when multiple pathogens are being transmitted concurrently, or what happens when a person perhaps gets bitten, obtains Powassan but doesn’t have symptoms, and then in the future gets another tick bite and perhaps gets Lyme with that one. Does that second bite activate a latent virus infection with Powassan?
These questions have never been broached by the CDC.
One thing’s for sure. The CDC is not getting the memo because every single article I read on Powassan calls it “rare.”