Ticks carrying a deadly virus similar to West Nile have been found in Bridgeport and Branford, according to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. The virus, while rare, can be deadly in 25% of people who contract it.
The Powassan virus, named after a small Canadian town where it was first found, can “cause potentially serious trouble,” said Dr. Thomas Brunoski of Westport.
“From what I’ve heard and read, and it looks pretty reliable,” as many as 25% of those struck by the virus could die as a result, he said.
Powassan is related to the West Nile virus, and there is no known vaccine or specific cure for it.
Though only about 60 cases have been identified nationally over the last 10 years, Dr. Brunoski said he expects more cases will be reported as an understanding of the virus spreads — further differentiating it from Lyme disease, which afflicts 30,000 people a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, no cases were reported in Connecticut from 2004 to 2013.
“There have not been so many cases because it’s not really reported officially and testing only recently got pretty good,” Brunoski said.
“Fever, chills and aches can come from either [Lyme or Powassan], and we can’t be sure just on the face of it,” he said. “The worst possibility could be Powassan, but luckily most of the time it’s self-limited and it goes away” on its own, he said.
If one survives Powassan, the Centers for Disease Control estimates the person has a 50% chance of developing long-term neurological problems.
While Dr. Brunoski thinks having an awareness of Powassan is good, he still says Lyme should be the tick disease people are most worried about.
“It’s a good thing to have an awareness that there is a dangerous infection [in Connecticut], but there are thousands of Lyme cases reported every year. You should not be limited to [thinking about] the quite rare Powassan virus.
“Lyme gets into the brain, too,” he said.