POWASSAN VIRUS – A People Pathogen

POWASSAN VIRUS – A People Pathogen

The signs of summer being right around the corner are unmistakable. Warmer weather sets upon us, flowers are blooming, neighbours cut their grass during dinner hour and of course the ever noticeable return of ticks and mosquitos.

In recent years, climate change has had a measurable impact on the number of these two critters. Milder winters and longer wet summers create ideal conditions for booming tick and mosquito populations.
This heightens the risk of exposure to vector-borne diseases for humans.

Ticks are a well-known carrier of Lyme disease; a disease that can cause depression, swelling of the lymph nodes, loss of appetite, fever, painful joints and kidney disease. However, ticks are vectors for more human diseases than just Lyme and there is another that is currently drawing more attention for the potentially life-threatening impact on humans.

This is the Powassan Virus. It can be transmitted by a variety of ticks and unlike Lyme disease, which takes 24 hours to cause an infection, Powassan only needs 15 minutes! Larval ticks ingest the virus by feeding on rodents and sometimes other small mammals and birds. Once a tick is infected, it remains infective for life.

The danger of Powassan virus is that it is difficult to diagnose since its symptoms are very similar to a variety of other infections. Initial symptoms are fever, headache, nausea and weakness. Serious symptoms include: trouble speaking, confusion and lack of co-ordination. Powassan attacks the central nervous system and can infect the brain causing inflammation. There are currently no medications or vaccines to treat or prevent against Powassan virus and many cases are fatal or result in permanent brain damage.

The virus has been documented all across North America but typically can be found around the Great Lakes region. Fortunately, Powassan is still relatively rare. There have only been 25 Canadian cases of infection since the virus was first identified in the 1950s. However, as climate change impacts the seasons and tick populations continue to rise, the risk for all tick-borne disease including Powassan Virus is increasing.

It is important to take all precautions against vector-borne diseases. As pets are a direct entry path for critters to enter the home, it is imperative to use preventative medicines and check regularly for ticks and bites to protect yourself as well as your pet.