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Fatal Encephalitis in New York Man Linked to Deer Tick Virus

Last Updated: May 13, 2009.

A report of a fatal case of encephalitis related to deer tick virus illustrates that the incidence of infection in humans may be underappreciated, according to research published in the May 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

WEDNESDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- A report of a fatal case of encephalitis related to deer tick virus illustrates that the incidence of infection in humans may be underappreciated, according to research published in the May 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Norma P. Tavakoli, Ph.D., of the New York State Department of Health in Albany, and colleagues write that the patient -- a 62-year-old man who spent time in the woods -- presented with a four-day history of fatigue, fever, palmar rash, and right-sided weakness. He had a history of leukemia and chronic sinusitis.

The patient died 17 days after symptom onset. A tissue sample taken during a suboccipital craniotomy performed on hospital day five revealed severe meningoencephalitis, and autopsy examination revealed meningopolioencephalitis and meningopoliomyelitis, with areas of necrosis found throughout the brain. Polymerase-chain-reaction assay revealed the presence of deer tick virus, which is closely related to Powassan virus.

"This report of deer tick virus resulting in a fatal case of encephalitis emphasizes the significance of deer ticks in transmitting a variety of infections. Because no specific antiviral therapy is available for Powassan infection, the best strategy remains prevention (i.e., avoidance of contact with the arthropod vector). Studies to elucidate the prevalence and relative pathogenic features of Powassan lineages I and II are warranted," the authors conclude.

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