NY Health Department steps up tick surveillance

July 18, 2017 06:31 PM

There's a second confirmed case of Powassan disease and one probable case - both in Saratoga County. This follows the death of another Saratoga County resident from the rare tick-borne disease earlier this month. The state Health Department has stepped up its tick surveillance.

With simple flannel cloths, state Health Department employees drag for and collect ticks. Five diseases are tested for. However, one in particular has everyone's attention right now -- the rare and potentially deadly Powassan disease. There have been two confirmed and one probable case in Saratoga County since April. The question is why?

"I think it's a little too early to say whether or not Powassan is kind of a true threat here in Saratoga County, but we've seen a couple of cases and it's enough for us to beef up surveillance of ticks, beef up our surveillance looking for human cases," explained Bryon Backenson with the New York State Department of Health.

Backenson says none of the three cases appears to be connected by a specific location in Saratoga County. The first claimed the life of Charlie Smith from Gansevoort in June.

In the most two recent cases, identities are not being released, but NewsChannel 13 is told both developed symptoms in June. One person remains hospitalized, while the other person with the suspected case was treated and released.

"Powassan can cause encephalitis and meningitis. That's swelling of the brain, swelling of the lining of the brain," explained Backenson.

It triggers a severe, unshakeable headache, fever and disorientation. There is no cure so treatment aims to reduce swelling and inflammation. 

While three cases in one area is rare, it's not unheard of.

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"There have been other instances where there have been multiple cases in a region in other parts of the Northeast. Some of that may be a function of how we are able to detect cases," noted Backenson.

New York is one of a handful of states that does testing.

"It's not a reason to stay inside but it is a reason to stay vigilant," cautioned Backenson.

That means using tick repellents, wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants, tucked into socks and in light colors - easier to spot ticks. You should also do tick checks after being out of doors.

Since 2004, New York has had 25 confirmed cases of Powassan. Five of them were fatal.


More information

Powassan virus

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Benita Zahn

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