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Powassan Virus: An Emerging Arbovirus of Public Health Concern in North America
Powassan virus (POWV, Flaviviridae) is the only North American member of the tick-borne encephalitis serogroup of flaviviruses. It is transmitted to small- and medium-sized mammals by Ixodes scapularis, Ixodes cookei, and several other Ixodes tick species. Humans become infected with POWV during spillover transmission from the natural transmission cycles.
In humans, POWV is the causative agent of a severe neuroinvasive illness with 50% of survivors displaying long-term neurological sequelae. POWV was recognized as a human pathogen in 1958 when a young boy died of severe encephalitis in Powassan, Ontario, and POWV was isolated from the brain autopsy of this case.
Two distinct genetic lineages of POWV are now recognized: POWV (lineage I) and deer tick virus (lineage II). Since the index case in 1958, over 100 human cases of POWV have been reported, with an apparent rise in disease incidence in the past 16 years. This recent increase in cases may represent a true emergence of POWV in regions where the tick vector species are prevalent, or it could represent an increase in POWV surveillance and diagnosis.
In the past 5 years, both basic and applied research for POWV disease has intensified, including phylogenetic studies, field surveillance, case studies, and animal model development. This review provides an overview of POWV, including the epidemiology, transmission, clinical disease, and diagnosis of POWV infection. Recent research developments and future priorities with regard to the disease are emphasized.
Source: By Meghan E. Hermance and Saravanan Thangaman. Powassan Virus: An Emerging Arbovirus of Public Health Concern in North America. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2017 Jul 1; 17(7): 453–462. Published online 2017 Jul 1. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2017.2110. PMCID: PMC5512300