Increasing threat of Lyme disease and Powassan virus: Should you get tested?
Cases of Lyme disease are on the rise with an estimated 300,000+ new cases each year. Unfortunately co-infections such as Powassan virus are also on the rise. Although not all ticks carry pathogens, one tick can carry – and transmit – multiple infections to its host (i.e. to you!).
In 2017, a study published by Coppe Laboratories showed significant evidence of co-infections in ticks. In fact, 50% of ticks infected with Powassan virus also tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
And while Lyme disease typically takes 24-48 hours to transmit from the tick to the host, Powassan virus only takes 15 minutes.
Similar to Lyme disease, Powassan virus may cause flu-like symptoms including headache, fever, fatigue, joint and muscle aches, as well as nausea, vomiting, and muscle weakness. Powassan virus can also cause encephalitis (brain swelling) and may be fatal.
In short, one tick bite may result in multiple infections in a person. These infections may present similar symptoms, and yet the infections themselves can be drastically different…
Bacterial and viral infections.
Good News / Bad News
The good news is treating an acute Lyme infection with antibiotics kills the infection in about 80-90% of cases. (The 10-20% who do not get better with antibiotics, keep reading!)
On the other hand, treating a viral infection with antibiotics helps in exactly 0% of cases.
Antibiotics are never an effective treatment for viral infections such as Powassan. And the bad news is there currently is no cure for Powassan virus.
“Why test for Powassan if there’s no cure? Knowing if I have it won’t do me any good.”
This is a question we hear often, and the answer is the type of infection you have – whether bacterial (Lyme) or viral (Powassan) – can drastically change the course of your treatment. If you have a bacterial infection, take antibiotics. They will almost always cure your infection.
If you have a virus, work to alleviate symptoms until your body fights off the infection. Not only will antibiotics not work in treating your viral infection, they may cause harm by killing essential bacteria particularly in your gut. This weakens your body’s immune system making it more difficult to fight other infections.
Who should get tested for Powassan virus?
There are several groups of people who should consider getting tested for Powassan (10 to 20%-ers – read this!):
- People with a recent tick bite. Studies have shown 6-11% of ticks in Lyme-endemic areas to be infected with Powassan virus.
- Patients with tick-borne illnesses who have been treated with antibiotics and have persistent symptoms consistent with post-treatment (chronic) Lyme disease.
- Patients with tick exposure who have tested negative for Lyme disease who continue to have symptoms.
- Patients with tick exposure and unexplained neurologic symptoms.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients with tick exposure.
Getting tested for co-infections, including Powassan virus, may be one of the most important action steps you take. The more you know, the better equipped you will be in improving your quality of life.
For more information on Powassan virus testing, visit Coppe Laboratories.