NJ death linked to extremely rare tick-borne Powassan virus

A New Jersey man reportedly has died from an extremely rare tick-borne disease.  It is called the Human Powassan (POW) virus.

The daughter of 80-year-old Armand Desormeaux says her father became the first known death from the virus in New Jersey, although a 2013 death of a Warren County woman is believed to be linked to the virus.

Dianne Desormeaux Rude says her father was bitten by a tick while gardening outside his Sussex County home in April, about two weeks before he got sick.

He eventually came down with a cold and high fever that ended up leaving him in the hospital.

Rude says a full battery of tests were run and eventually sent to special testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  She says the CDC found the Powassan virus.

Rude says that officials with Newton Medical Center alerted her to the cause of death after the results were known.

A second Powassan case is currently being investigated in Sussex County, a mostly rural area in the northwest corner of the state.

The New Jersey Department of Health says approximately 75 cases of POW virus disease were reported in the United States over the past 10 years. Most cases have occurred in the Northeast United States and Great Lakes regions.  New Jersey confirmed its first case of POW virus in 2013.  As of 2017, there were seven known cases in the state, according to the CDC.  New York saw 16 cases over the same period.

The virus can be transmitted to humans by black-legged or deer ticks.  The woodchuck tick also may spread the virus.

Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurologic problems may occur. There is no specific treatment, but people with severe POW virus illnesses often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain.

There is no vaccine or medicine to directly treat the virus.

Health officials suggest using tick repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants, and doing thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors.