Gansevoort man dies from rare tick virus

July 12, 2017 06:35 PM

Since 2000, only 24 cases of Powassan virus have been confirmed in New York.  Five of them were fatal.

The most recent case was 74-year-old Charles Smith from Gansevoort. His family tells NewsChannel 13 he was bitten by a tick on April 28. He went to the doctor on May 1 and was sent home. However, by May 11, he had fever and chills and was hospitalized. He died June 6.

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NewsChannel 13’s Benita Zahn spoke with the state Department of Health about Powassan on Wednesday afternoon.

"Powassan is a serious illness," warned Bryon Backenson, deputy director of the New York State Health Department.

There is no cure for Powassan's, which is deadly about 10-percent of the time because it affects the central nervous system in about half the cases. As for treatment:

"You're trying to do things to reduce swelling in the brain or reduce swelling on the lining of the brain," explained Backenson.

Symptoms of Powassan's include headache, fever, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulty and seizures.

It can take up to four weeks for Powassan's to be confirmed by blood and cerebrospinal fluid testing, making early treatment important when it's suspected. So tell your doctor about time spent outdoors if symptoms start.

"With a disease like Powassan that tick only has to be on 10 or 15 minutes before it has the potential to transmit what it's carrying because Powassan is a virus," warned Backenson.

Unlike Lyme disease which is a bacteria and can take up to 36 hours for infection to occur.

Without a specific treatment, the need to protect against tick bites is key. Products with at least 20-percent DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus can be applied to the skin to repel the tiny critters.

Products with permethrin are ONLY to be applied to your clothing.

"This is a very severe illness. It's an illness that can cause deaths, but it's also one that's extremely rare," explained Backenson.

Keep in mind, of the 30,000 to 50,000 tick bites a year in New York, only one to three are confirmed as Powassan's.

More information:

Powassan Virus

NYS Department of Health: Tick information


Benita Zahn

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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