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Columbia County warns of possible Powassan virus; COVID deaths tick up too

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Courtesy of the NYS Department of Health
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Columbia County is warning residents of a possible case of Powassan virus.

Concerns about Lyme and tick-borne diseases have been ramping up over the last decade. In 2021, experts said across the Hudson Valley ticks were out in greater force in the spring than in recent history.

County Public Health Director Jack Maab says the department is awaiting confirmation of a possible case of Powassan virus, a tick-borne illness, in a resident of Columbia County.

"Columbia County is one of the either first or second in the state when it comes to positive Lyme cases, and has been for quite some time," said Maab. "I think people get a little bit lackadaisical about, you know, checking themselves for ticks. And that's really why we sent the release out to remind them that Lyme disease is out there. To date for this year, we've had 489 Lyme cases. Powassan is a very serious illness that can in very rare cases result in in some very severe disabilities as well as death. And we wanted to remind people, hey, you know, stay vigilant, you know, make sure you know, you do what you need to deal with, as far as text checking for ticks, using some kind of treatment on your clothing and just pay attention."

Maab urges residents to plan ahead before outdoor activities, be mindful of exposure while outdoors and to remain vigilant in checking for ticks both while outdoors and afterward for the best chance of prevention against tick-borne diseases.

"With Lyme disease, the tick has to be on you for like 24 hours for the virus to be transmitted." Maab said. "With Powassan, it could be as little as 15 minutes. So you can go out walking your dog and pick up a tick. And if it's a long walk, that tick could have been on you long enough, in that in that first 15 minutes that they could actually transmit the Powassan. I want to emphasize it's very rare, our last case was in 2019."

The county has had a total of three confirmed cases since 2018.

Maab says the new Powassan warning was issued out of an abundance of caution.

"We received word back in June that we had a county resident who was in a hospital up in Albany, and she went to the hospital because she was in a state of confusion, they ended up diagnosing her with encephalitis, that is the most serious symptom of Powassan," said Maab. "But the other symptoms can be fever, headache, vomiting, you know, weakness, loss of coordination. In this particular case, she had them all."

The patient was tested and the county is awaiting results, which Maab expects "in a couple of weeks."

Meantime, the county has seen three COVID deaths in recent days.

"We had 429 positive cases in the month of June, we had over 800, in the month of May," said Maab. "So you know, the number, the counts are coming down. We have 87 this week, so it's fairly consistent with the month of June, 429 averages out of around 100 a week. So it stayed fairly consistent with us. And as far as the death goes, in our county, two of them were nursing home residents. One of them was a community member, all of them were over 60, one individual was over 80."

Maab suggests taking precautions including masking if it makes you feel more comfortable, especially in close quarters and in family situations where there is more close contact.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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