As we have talked about in an earlier post, the Powassan virus has been on the rise in the North America and is becoming a growing concern because of increasing tick populations. In response to this concern, the National Institutes of Health has sprung into action and developed a new laboratory method to study Flaviviruses that are transmitted by ticks. Flaviviruses have been making the headlines for a long time in this country with out-brakes of mosquito spread West Nile and, more recently, Zika viruses striking fear in many, but now the lesser known Powassan and Deer tick virus are becoming worrisome as well and the National Institutes of Health is looking to gather valuable information that may aid in medical countermeasures against these infections.
There have only been around 75 reported cases of Powassan in the U.S. over the last ten years and though that number may not seem like a lot, it is a drastic increase from what has been reported in the past and many of those reported cases were in states where Powassan had never been reported before.
In the last ten years, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Virginia all saw their first Powassan infections, and Connecticut had its first victim earlier this year when a five-month-old was diagnosed. Powassan is of great concern because it has a nearly 15% mortality rate and could leave up to 50% of those infected with long term neurological damage regardless of age or health, earlier this year Powassan was connected to the death of a man in New York. In addition, there is currently no approved treatment or vaccine for the viruses.
The National Institutes of Health is looking to get ahead of any possible epidemics by diving into research on Powassan and Deer tick viruses to prepare for the future. The scientist developed this new method for looking at Flaviviruses by dissecting the midgut, nervous tissue, and salivary glands of ticks and infecting them with the viruses. The scientist discovered that Powassan and a related virus Langat, a virus found mostly in Southwest Asia that is ideal for testing because of its normally benign effect, could spread and infect through the tick’s midgut and saliva. The scientist at the National Institutes of Health will continue to investigate further and gather valuable information of Powassan and Flaviviruses. For more information on Powassan virus click here.