Up until recently, experts believed that ticks carried only the Borrelia burgdorferi virus, the microorganism responsible for Lyme disease. However, new research shows tick bites can also transmit the Powassan virus – a deadly organism that can kill or permanently disable its host.
Beware of POW
POW, or the Powassan virus, makes the Borrelia burgdorferi virus look like the hero of the story. While the latter triggers Lyme disease – an illness that comes with an assortment of health problems from severe migraines to rashes, arthritis, and even brain inflammation – the first is ten times deadlier.
Unlucky individuals infected with POW are lucky to escape the disease with permanent disabilities, the majority losing their life. Just as in the case of its relative, the microorganism doesn’t always make his presence felt, patients rarely showing symptoms until it’s already too late to treat the infection.
Once it enters a person’s bloodstream, POW travels directly to the brain where it starts wreaking havoc, triggering acute cases of meningitis or encephalitis. These come with a set of distinct symptoms such as vomiting, intense headaches, confusion, weakness, loss of coordination, and even seizures.
10 percent of patients suffering from POW encephalitis die. Over 50 percent of those who are lucky enough to survive additional complications end up losing their short-term memory, suffering from constant migraines, or having to spend the rest of their lives trying to control their slurred speech.
Why Are Hearing About It Only Now?
A recent CDC report shows the virus only killed about 75 individuals since it was first discovered. The victims were rather unfortunate as the carries usually feed on the blood of rodents the likes of white-footed mice, squirrels, and woodchucks – animals with which humans rarely come into contact.
Here’s where the news turns bad, researchers have found that the virus has been spreading to deer ticks, which, as everybody knows, have better chances of nibbling on human blood, rapidly spreading the Powassan virus.
Up until now, the CDC found cases of Powassan infections in three major states: New York, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Seeing as deer ticks are much more widespread, it’s only a matter of time before new cases start popping out throughout the country.
Authorities are advising all Americans to wear appropriate clothing when heading to the great outdoors, and thoroughly check their bodies for any signs of insect bites upon returning home.