A rare virus spread by ticks has caused a fatality in New York, health officials in Ulster County said Thursday.
A resident of Gardiner, New York, became the first diagnosis of Powassan virus in the state this year. The victim of the virus did have an underlying condition, the health department said.
Though rare, the virus — which cannot be treated with antibiotics — is often serious, according to the Ulster County Health Department.
Authorities in Ulster County are urging residents to be on alert for ticks that could carry Powassan.
“It is imperative that all residents take every precaution necessary against tick-borne illnesses, especially during outdoor activities. Residents should vigilantly check themselves and their pets for ticks and tick bites,” Dr. Carol M. Smith, Ulster County Commissioner of Health and Mental Health, said in a statement.
Smith also recommended people spending time outside should wear light-colored clothing, stick to the well-traveled path and use insect repellents containing DEET.
Spread by infected deer ticks, Powassan virus can cause fever, headache, vomiting, loss of coordination and memory and speech problems, however, it often does not present with any symptoms, according to the CDC.
It can also cause encephalitis and meningitis, according to the CDC.
Those who have been bitten and experience any of the common symptoms should consult a doctor, Smith said.
In 2018, states reported 21 cases of Powassan virus disease to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three people died. Most cases occur in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions from the late spring through mid-fall when ticks are most active, the CDC said.
By Madeline Holcombe and John Bonifield
Another Victim of Rare Tick-Borne Virus
In another instance of tick-borne viruses, a 58-year-old assistant superintendent of a state park in Missouri picked two ticks off her body, only to die about a month later from the rare Bourbon virus.
Tamela Wilson worked in Meramec State Park for more than 10 years. Finding ticks on her skin in late May didn’t phase her—until her health took a turn for the worse.
Doctors first thought she had a urinary tract infection and sent her home with antibiotics. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, antibiotics aren’t effective in battling this type of condition. By the next day, her health had deteriorated to the point where she was too weak to move.
She returned to her doctor with headaches, pain, and a rash—precisely the symptoms indicative of the virus. Doctors told her that her white blood cell count was low and sent her to a hospital in St. Louis. Samples of her blood were sent to the CDC, which confirmed that the Bourbon virus was the cause. Wilson died on June 23.
— LymeDisease.org (@Lymenews) July 3, 2017
Wilson’s daughter, Amie May, is a nurse. She told CBS how the sudden deterioration in her mother’s health led to a condition that she had never witnessed.
The rash spread to her mouth and she developed the immune system disease hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. This was only the fifth known Bourbon virus case.
“I want people to know it’s out there,” May told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We have a virus that doesn’t have a cure, and that’s scary.”
The CDC says the disease was discovered in 2014, in Bourbon County, Kansas. Scientists have a very limited understanding of the Bourbon virus. All the cases that have been reported were from the Midwest and southern United States.
NTD reporter Colin Fredericson contributed to this report.