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Local Ticks Infected with Deadly Powassan Virus

By Heather Crosley

As temperatures meander up, Long Islanders are headed out. But a deadly disease is lurking in the ticks in the woods: the lethal Powassan virus.

For us, here on the Island, the great outdoors has meant being on the lookout for ticks and tick bites. The leading concern has long been Lyme disease, a bacterial disease carried by deer ticks. Lyme disease is treatable if caught early, and infection rates have remained seemingly steady in recent years.

Now the disease has reached Long Island, with local deer - and their ticks - spreading Powassan. It is serious viral infection - spread by the bite of deer ticks. And there is no cure.

Powassan virus is more insidious than Lyme disease, as many people infected by tick bites might not experience any symptoms for up to a month after infection - so they don't even know they have been infected.

And with the explosion of the deer population on the north shore, increasing numbers of ticks are infected. The deer are the leading "disease vector" for both Lyme and Powassan, since nearly 100% of the deer are infected. Each infected deer drops about 20,000 infected ticks onto our lawns, gardens and woods each year.

But thanks to "new rules" from the NY Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC"), the annual "deer cull" by local villages has been blocked. Now the deer population has exploded, with tens of thousands of infected deer teeming across the north shore.

Powassan symptoms, when they occur, include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness. The more severe symptoms include encephalitis and meningitis, which lead to seizures, cranial nerve palsies, and altered mental status. Of the patients who develop such symptoms, 10% die.

In 2019, a former US Senator, Kay Hagan, died of Powassan virus from a tick bite.

This spring and summer, Long Islanders should stay on guard against ticks and tick bites, by spraying clothing with tick repellent and checking from tick bites upon returning indoors.


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