Powassan virus: rare, tick-borne and worrying some experts about possible spread

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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live & NBC) - As if Lyme disease isn't troubling enough, experts warn a more serious tick-borne disease may be emerging.

Powassan virus, which is a far rarer and more deadly pathogen than the bacterium that produces Lyme, is also transmitted by the deer tick.

Symptoms of the virus include the following: confusion, headaches, loss of coordination, seizures, speech difficulties, vomiting and weakness.

In the most severe cases, the virus can cause inflammation in the brain which leads to death or permanent disability in 60 percent of cases.

Only 75 instances of severe disease have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but experts said more cases are possible because only the severe cases have been diagnosed.

“The bottom line is that we should be very scared of it because nobody is safe from it,” said Dr. Jennifer Lyons, chief of the division of neurological and inflammatory diseases at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School. “And it could be that it is emerging and will explode over the next few years.”

Especially worrying, the virus can be transmitted from the tick in as little as 15 minutes, Lyons said. In comparison, the Lyme bacterium needs 24 hours to pass from a tick to a human.

The reported cases have mostly come from the Northeast and the northern part of the Midwest. List of cases through 2015, per the CDC:

Maine (2)
Massachusetts (8)
Minnesota (20)
New Hampshire (1)
New Jersey (3)
New York (16)
Pennsylvania (1)
Virginia (1)
Wisconsin (16)

Click here to learn more about the Powassan virus.