Rare Disease Report

New York State Resident Dies from Powassan Virus

JULY 13, 2017
Mathew Shanley
Charles Smith, 74, of Gansevoort, New York died on June 6th as the result of being bitten by a tick carrying the Powassan virus.
Smith, who fished and hunted regularly, saw a doctor after noticing the tick in late April and was promptly sent home. 10 days later, he woke up with a high fever and chills and was immediately hospitalized. Soon after, he became paralyzed from the neck down and eventually died from brain swelling due to the transmitted disease.
On average, 7 cases of Powassan were reported in the United States annually between 2006 and 2015, per a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Historically, the largest number of cases reported each year have been in Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York.
Powassan is transmitted in a similar manner as Lyme’s disease, but differs in that it can be transferred from tick to human much more quickly, and results in more severe symptoms. The virus is capable of quickly reaching a patient’s brain, and leaving them vulnerable to long-term neurological damage.
Cases are most likely to occur when ticks are at peak activity, which is typically during late spring, early summer and mid-fall. While reports are typically indigenous to the Great Lakes, it’s not uncommon to see reports from the Northeast.
In April, Rare Disease Report covered a story in which a New York infant had been diagnosed, and In May, relayed information that the virus had spread to areas of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
According to his family, Smith, who had previously survived a heart attack that partially took his sight, and resulted in the amputation of his right leg and left foot, wasn’t concerned about the tick.
“He said it’s nothing to worry about, no bulls eye it’s an atypical tick bite because it didn’t measure 5 centimeters,” said his daughter Stephanie to WNYT, an NBC-affiliate in Albany.
It took more than a month after Smith’s death for the New York State Department of Health to confirm the case. Since then, 2 new cases of the virus have been reported in Maine.
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