A freakishly high number of ticks in a Pennsylvania park have been found to be infected with a neuroinvasive virus that can spread to humans and cause a potentially fatal disease.
Researchers at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) collected 25 ticks from Lawrence Township Recreational Park near Clearfield and found that 23 of the bugs (92 percent) were positive for Deer Tick Virus (DTV).
That figure is way higher than normal. The statewide average infection rate for DTV was 0.6 percent last year. The highest DTV infection rate found previously found in Pennsylvania was 11 percent and the highest infection rate ever reported in the US was approximately 25 percent.
“The infection rate of ticks sampled from the Lawrence Township Recreational Park is extremely high, Deer Tick Virus transfers very quickly through the bite from an infected tick, and the health outcomes from the Deer Tick Virus are more severe than other tick-borne illnesses typically seen in Pennsylvania,” Patrick McDonnell, DEP Secretary, said in a statement.
“This finding is concerning, and we strongly urge the public to exercise caution and take preventive measures to reduce risk of tick bites and potential infection while DEP continues to address the situation,” McDonnell continued.
DTV is a type of Powassan virus that can be transmitted from tick to human in as little as 15 minutes after a bite occurs. As the name suggests, the ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are prone to feeding on the blood of deer living in northeastern states and the Great Lakes region. It's the same species of tick that's also the main vector of Lyme disease in North America.
Some infections are asymptomatic, meaning the disease most often goes undetected, but people often initially present with symptoms including fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. It can also lead to severe disease, including infections of the brain or the membranes that surround the brain (meningitis), leading to confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, and seizures.
According to the CDC, approximately 1 out of 10 people with the severe disease die, while around half of those who survive continue to suffer from recurring headaches, loss of muscle mass, and memory problems.
Prevention is key to tackling the disease since there are no vaccines to prevent or medicines to treat Powassan viruses. The DEP is asking people in Pennsylvania to take care when spending time outside. If you’re hiking in the great outdoors, stick to the centers of trails and avoid wooded and brushy areas with vegetation and grasses that may harbor ticks. It’s also advisable to spray yourself with tick repellent before you head out and tuck your shirts into pants, and pants into socks. When you get home, jump in the shower and put your clothes into the dryer on high heat.
Stay safe, don’t let the deer ticks bite.