Danger in the Valley - BlueStone Press
October 20, 2020
Tick update

Danger in the Valley

Tick-borne diseases in the news


The BlueStone Press has reached out to a local Lyme disease expert for information regarding a new, terrifying tick-borne virus that has recently been turning up in the Hudson Valley. Mary Beth Pfeiffer, investigative journalist and local author of “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change,” identified it as Powassan. It is a flavivirus transmitted by deer ticks, can cause lifelong neurological impairment and, in about a 10th of the cases, death.

It is named after the town of Powassan, Ontario, where, in 1958, the virus was identified in a young boy who eventually died from it. According to the Centers for Disease Control website, 100 cases have been reported between 2007-2016. Most cases are in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region, 21 of which are in New York state. The virus can be transmitted within 15 minutes via deer tick bites on a human. The main host of the deer tick is the white-footed mouse.

Signs and symptoms of Powassan listed on the CDC website include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss. It can also cause encephalitis, an infection of the brain. There are currently no vaccines or antiviral drugs to treat this illness. People infected with POW often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, IV fluids or medications to reduce swelling in the brain. Prevention against this uncommon virus is to avoid tick bites.

A second, and more disturbing development is the lone star tick. Pfeiffer reports that this tick is rapidly moving north. It carries a number of serious diseases to humans. Aggressive by nature, lone star ticks are known to move long distances in pursuit of a host. The list of concerns includes: human monocytic ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, STARI – Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness or Master’s disease, and alpha-gal allergy, also known as meat allergy.

The lone star tick’s bite is painless and commonly goes unnoticed. It can remain attached to its host for as long as seven days until it is fully engorged with blood. The female is easily recognizable due to the silvery-white, star-shaped spot in the center of its back. Both male and females feed, but it is more likely that the diseases are spread by the female.

Of additional concern is a third new invader in New York which has not yet found its way to the Hudson Valley. It was discovered one year ago by the owner of a small farm in New Jersey. She went to her local county health office covered in thousands of ticks after she was shearing her pet Icelandic sheep, Hannah. Experts identified the vector as the longhorned tick, an invasive exotic that is native to Australia, New Zealand and eastern Asia. According to Pfeiffer, since this first identification, the longhorned tick has also been confirmed in eight states and in three downstate counties: Westchester, Rockland and Richmond (Staten Island). How this tick arrived in the United States remains a mystery. What we do know is this is the first time in 50 years a new tick species has arrived in our backyards, and it is one that in its Asian home range carries serious diseases.

At the moment, public health experts say they are concerned, but not alarmed. None of the longhorned ticks tested have been found with human diseases. However, in Asia, the tick can carry a virus that is toxic to its human victims.

Known in Australia as a bush tick, this new arrival is considered much more of a threat to livestock. The ticks can multiply rapidly and suck so much blood from young animals that they succumb. The ticks bloat up after a blood meal, and the females can lay hundreds of fertile eggs without mating. This means just one female tick traveling on a host can create an infestation of all females in a relatively short period of time. They have been found feeding on horses, dogs, deer, a calf, sheep and an opossum. They do bite humans, but it is not clear how often.


What can I do to protect myself?


  • Avoid contact with ticks. When hiking, walk in the center of the trails and avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.

  • Wear long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and long pants. It is best to tuck the pant legs into sock cuffs.

  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-methane-diol or 2-undcanone. The EPA website can help you find the best product for your needs. Always follow instructions!

  • Examine your pets and gear when returning home. Kill any live ticks found by crushing. Toss clothing into a hot dryer for 10 minutes or wash with hot water.

  • Shower within two hours of being outdoors.

  • Check your entire body, including armpits, hair, groin, backs of knees and elbows and waist.

Tick-borne diseases are a very serious matter, and this article is meant to give a brief overview of the topic. For more in-depth information, check out Mary Beth Pfeiffer’s book “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change” and the Centers for Disease Control website, www.CDC.gov

Related story: Mary Beth's book reviewed from the BSP pages, link here http://www.bluestonepress.net/stories/pfeiffers-lyme-a-nerve-wracking-wake-up-call,24191


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