An extremely rare tick-borne brain swelling virus that killed a Hudson Valley resident may have returned.

Late last week, the Columbia County Department of Health confirmed officials are awaiting confirmation of a possible case of Powassan virus, in a resident from Columbia County, New York.

Powassan Virus Likely Found in Columbia County, New York

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"Powassan virus is a rare viral disease that can cause symptoms ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to life-threatening encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)," the Columbia County Department of Health stated.

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The Powassan virus is spread by the same deer tick that carries Lyme disease. Powassan, which in some cases has been fatal, attacks the nervous system and can cause dangerous brain swelling, according to health officials.

Powassan Virus May Have Returned To Hudson Valley, New York

Tick Carrying Powassan Virus Found in New York
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"In Columbia County, we have learned through years of experience that a number of preventative measures can work together for protection against tick-borne diseases,” Columbia County Director of Public Health Jack Mabb said. “It is important for residents to plan ahead before outdoor activities, be mindful of exposure while outdoors and to remain vigilant in checking for ticks both while outdoors and afterward for the best chance of prevention against tick-borne diseases.”

There is currently no treatment for the virus, which according to the CDC kills around 10 percent of people who become sick. Half are left with permanent neurological problems.

Powassan Virus Very Rare in New York State

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Powassan Virus is extremely rare in New York State, officials say. 27 New York cases were reported to the CDC from 2011 to 2020, according to the Columbia County Department of Health. Most of New York's cases are found in or near the Hudson Valley, according to the CDC.

In July 2019, an Ulster County resident passed away from the Powassan virus, a rare and often serious disease spread by infected ticks.

The Gardiner resident had additional underlying health conditions, according to the Ulster County Department of Health.

Powassan Virus Signs & Symptoms

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Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss.

People with severe cases of the virus often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain, according to the CDC.

You can reduce your risk of being infected by taking the following precautions:

    • Use of insect repellents containing DEET for skin applications and Permethrin for clothing and shoes.
    • Wearing long sleeves and pants
    • Avoiding bushy and wooded areas
    • Thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors.
    • Staying on clear well-traveled paths.
    • Wearing light-colored clothing to spot ticks easily.
    • Tucking pants into socks.
    • Showering as soon as possible after spending time outdoors.
    • Checking everyone including pets frequently and at the end of each day, and removing all ticks promptly and properly.

There are no vaccines to prevent or medicines to treat Powassan virus infection. People with severe Powassan virus disease often need to be hospitalized to receive support with breathing and swelling in and around the brain.

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