After finding a very dangerous virus in 22 ticks from five separate pools in upstate New York, state health regulators plan to expand their tick surveillance and education efforts, state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said this week.
Earlier this summer, the department expanded its tick collection efforts in Saratoga County after confirming three human cases of Powassan virus, a rare viral disease that can cause symptoms ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to life threatening encephalitis.
As part of the expanded collection, the department visited 30 locations and collected some 2,700 ticks for testing at The Wadsworth Center. Five positive pools, including 22 ticks, tested positive for Powassan, Zucker said.
Two of the positive pools were found at the Saratoga Spa State Park, one at the 100 Acre Woods Trail in Malta, one at the Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater, and the final pool was at a private residence.
Powassan, known as "POW," is named after Ontario, Canada town where it was identified in a young boy who eventually died from the virus.
This is the first time that Powassan has been found in ticks in Saratoga County.
The disease remains extremely rare in New York State with only 26 confirmed cases since 2000. The three cases in Saratoga County are the only confirmed cases of Powassan in the state this year, Zucker said.
"New York has long been a national leader in tick collection and testing and through our actions to inform the public on how to best protect themselves, their children, and their pets from tick bites," said Zucker.
To help spread the word about POW, the department will collaborate with the Department of Environmental Conservation to include tick and tick-borne disease informational materials in hunter education and licensure programs. They will also work with the State Education Department to implement new legislation requiring instructional materials for school districts and libraries to provide information about tick-borne diseases.
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