State Health Dept. warns against tick-borne virus Powassan

(WHAM photo)

Victor, N.Y. - The New York State Health Department is alerting families about a potentially life-threatening tick-borne illness called Powassan.

There have been two confirmed cases in Saratoga County, and a possible third. One man died from the virus in June.

Health experts say this is rare, with 26 cases in New York. Five resulted in death, in 17 years.

A local girls scouts' summer camp is taking extra precautions because of it.

"One of our rules is that they must wear shoes and socks, so their ankles are covered and their feet are covered all day," said camp director Mary Beth Sullivan.

Kids are outdoors all day, swimming, playing hop scotch or hiking in nearby trails, where there are all sorts of bugs - including ticks.

The first line of defense for these campers is sun screen and bug spray.

“We meet with our staff every day,” Sullivan said. “It’s a reminder that we give them, it’s something to watch for. Reminding everyone to check consistently.”

The Health Department is collecting and testing 200 ticks in Saratoga County to determine if there’s more to the two Powassan virus cases, or if there's just a rare occurrence.

Powassan is transmitted through deer ticks, which also transmit Lyme disease. Not all ticks carry the potentially-deadly virus.

The state recommends people walk in the middle of trails, instead of the edge. Wear light clothing so you can easily see ticks when checking your pants and shirts. Experts suggest looking behind your ears, bra straps, groin area and hairline for ticks.

The Piperwood camp director said they give the girls a good look-over before leaving outdoor activities.

"We encourage them to check at home, parents, as well, at night, if they've been out all day," she said. "We do believe it's important. That's why each morning we make sure that they put their bug spray on, and do it later on during the day, just for that layer of protection."

The Health Department says Powassan hasn't been detected in Monroe County. The closest cases were found in Cortland and Lewis Counties.

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