Potentially Deadly Tick-borne Virus Detected on Cape Cod

Deer Tick (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

Deer Tick (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

BARNSTABLE – A new, and potentially deadly deer tick virus has been found across Cape Cod.

A spring study by Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass-Amherst conducted surveillance for Powassan virus at six locations on Cape Cod.

The virus was detected in Falmouth, Brewster, Orleans and Truro.

Powassan is a rare disease that is transmitted by the bite of a black legged tick, which is also known as a deer tick.

Since the beginning of 2013 the Massahcusetts Department of Public Health has received just nine reported cases of the virus in the state, occurring in Barnstable, Middlesex, Essex and Norfolk Counties.

The Cape Cod Cooperative Extension’s Deer Tick Program Coordinator and Entomologist Larry Dapsis said Powassan is a lot like the West Nile virus.

“A lot of people may be exposed to the virus and not get sick at all,” Dapsis said. “In the rare instances where this thing takes another pathway into your body, into your nervous system, then it can be quite serious.”

Some may become severely ill with meningitis or encephalitis. Signs and symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.

About 10 percent of people infected with this severe form of the virus die and survivors may have long-term health problems.

There is no specific treatment for the virus other than supportive care, rest and ingesting fluids to prevent dehydration.

Dapsis presented the results of the study to county officials Wednesday.

The first discovered case of the virus was found in Powassan, Ontario in 1958.

“For years, most of the cases were in the upper-central Midwest,” Dapsis said.

About 10 to 12 years ago the virus started popping up in the Northeastern part of the country, mainly in Eastern New York in the Hudson Valley area.

“So it got our attention. I was kind of looking over my shoulder wondering when is this going to get here,” Dapsis said. “Well, it’s here.”

Dapsis said the usual precautions that are advised to prevent the normal tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, will also help protect against Powassan.

Some of the actions that should be taken include tick checks, placing clothing in the dryer for twenty minutes and the routine use of EPA registered repellents.

For exposed skin, deet-based products, or alternatives like picaridin are recommended.

“Our three point mantra is protect yourself, protect your yard and protect your pets,” Dapsis said. “The top of my list for personal protection is daily tick checks and the use of Permethrin-treated clothing and footwear – hands down the most effective tool in the box.”

Ticks can also be tested for the presence of Powassan in addition to all of the other major pathogens at the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass-Amherst.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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  1. i would like stats on Alpha gal 1,3 allergy for the cape/islands

  2. Joan Peters-Gilmartin says

    I believe I had Powassan July 2016. Ended up with seizures and balance problems after severe illness passed. Spent week in Boston Hospital. Had a deer tick bite on my neck at Corn Hill Beach, Truro two weeks prior to losing consciousness.

  3. A deer tick recently bit my son. I saved the tick , is there anyway I can send it in and have it tested ?

    • Ticks can also be tested for the presence of Powassan in addition to all of the other major pathogens at the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass-Amherst.

    • Hope Dunlap says

      You can have your son tested. There is a good chance he is infected with Lyme. If the results do not come back positive the first time, try a few more times in the next 6 months, or just opt for a course of doxycycline. Treatment options 6 months after exposure are not good, not good at all.

      • Why would you say there is a good chance he has Lyme disease? Possible, but tick bite doesn’t equal Likely Lyme disease. Higher chance he doesn’t! Look at the statistics for tick bites.

        • Because we are all conditioned to fear, fear, fear and do ridiculously stupid things to ‘protect’ ourselves, nevermind the potential cancer risk, risk to our food supply by killing off other insects or animals, or realistic statistics, why do we spend billions on non-existent terrorism, yet do nothing to stop guns from being in the hands of the mentally ill? Ignorance and fear….and believing EVERYTHING posted on the internet. I say consult with your vet and get some realistic solutions for your unique situation. Keep your pet out of shrubs, away from piles of leaves, check them, remove ticks, put up a fence, live in a bubble if you’d like! 😉

          • What in the world is your problem? Non-existent terrorism? All shooters have been liberals, and terrorists. All criminals are mentally ill.
            Now, back to the “tick” discussion…

  4. How about the state of MA start doing somwthing invasise to errdicate our growing tick issue here?

    • alexandra Moffat says

      Like what? get rid of the deer herds, allow predators to return to kill rodents.??
      Money for research!! DREAM ON…..

    • I agree!! I’ve found ticks on me here in Walpole, MA (Norfolk line) more times than I can count from just walking on the ground and my driveway (not in grassy areas).

    • Please note that this article is from last July-after a warm winter and in the midst of a drought. I live in NH and last yr was the first in my 12-yr old dog’s life that he had ticks and i took dozens off from him but no Lyme. Tick bites do NOT always result in these viruses. Also, the best eradication is a cold winter and lots of snow, which we had this past winter so we can hope nature has managed the problem and this summer will entail many less tick scares. I am vehemently opposed to chemical intervention that we have no idea the long term effects and my vet doesn’t even agree with the Lyme immunization because it isn’t a guarantee at all, and dogs are not lab rats. We cannot experiment with collars/chemicals on a member of our family. Protect, check often, prevent…

  5. Nancy Feeney says

    Property owners can easily make own tick tubes to place around perimeter of property; cheap, effective way to kill ticks that are carried by wild mice. Just google DIY for directions.

  6. The invasive way to eradicate ticks is by spraying pesticides which kill insects…. ALL insects which includes the HONEY BEE. We are losing the honey bees to colony collapse which has been directly related to pesticide use. No bees then NO FOOD. It is a big problem for not only honey bee hobbyists but also commercial beekeepers and farming. Look up what is happening to the almond growers in California. The other most effective way to get rid of deer ticks is to severely reduce the deer population through hunts. But who here in MA is willing to let deer hunting happen in their back yard? I would allow it on my property of 3 acres but I can’t due to proximity to neighbors. We need to reduce the deer population!!! Get rid of the host and get rid of a lot of the problem.

    • That is a sad solution. Unless the deer are skinny and unable to sustain themselves, we do not want to wipe out the wildlife that resided here long before we paved over their forests and put up shopping malls. This is the result of us not allowing sufficient lands for wildlife so they encroach on our yards (which were THEIR yards) in order to find food. Perhaps fence in your yard, but do not kill off the deer-they serve a purpose and are no less valuable than our pets.

  7. Seriously why arent we spraying to kill these ticks? I walk my dog 50 ft from my house..every day I pull at least one tick off every single walk. They are rampant!

  8. We are overrun with wild turkeys but I don’t see any ticks around my yard! It’s remarkable.

  9. There really isn’t much we can do. Chemicles hurt more than just bugs &bees, etc. The earth is taking a toll from man’s major mistakes. Just like the animals have had to learn to live with us, we have to learn to live with them. As it’s been said, check yourself, children & pets for ticks. No human & no animal is perfect & does not deserve to be killed for it.

  10. If you’re concerned about insecticide use and its effect on bees you should look into using beneficial nematodes. From what I’ve read, a combo of (Hb) Heterorhabditis bacteriophora and (Sf) Steinernema feltiae works best.

  11. Deb Silva says

    Actually reducing mouse populations around your house will reduce ticks, but please do not use rodenticides. Rat-X is the one mouse eradicator that does not kill birds of prey. Opossum feast on ticks so if you have them around the house don’t trap and remove, Opossum rarely get rabies and are an asset to the homeowner. Spraying poisons that go into the air, the water table and potentially kill pollinators is NEVER a good idea.
    Guess tick traps are good too but toxic to bees, butterflies and other “good bugs”.
    It works like is this. The mice find the cotton balls in the tubes and carry them back to use as a nice, fluffy addition to their nests. That cozy cotton nest soon reveals it other side and kills all the young ticks on contact leaving the mice unaffected.
    To use them, you place the tubes a few feet past your yard line (into the woods, tall grass, etc.) and put one down every 10 feet around the area you want to protect against ticks. You deploy them twice a year when the mice are mating and forming nests, which in the Northeastern US is April and July.

    • Joan Lockhart says

      The entomologist quoted above, Larry Dapsis, mentioned in a recent talk that these tubes are ineffective.

  12. N Satchell says

    My husband got Lyme disease at the Cape about five years ago, was misdiagnosed there and was picked up weeks later somewhere else when he collapsed and almost died. He had meningitis, palsy and other symptoms. It was a very scary time for all of us. It took him a long time to recuperate. My daughter also picked it up last year and suffered from panic attacks and weakness. Their symptoms were different. It’s very important to have the test done more than once.

    • Our dog supposedly had anaplasmosis twice from tick bites. He was put on 30 days of antibiotics, twice, even though he showed no signs of the disease. Those antibiotics destroyed his immune system!

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