Recently a man in Massachusetts died from complications of the tick-borne illness Powassan, but it wasn’t until after his death that doctors were able to find the cause. Powassan has only caused 100 deaths over the last 10 years and the rarity makes it hard to recognize. When this man walked into the hospital with a fever and pain in his testes, doctors gave him antibiotics. When he came back with trouble walking and talking the doctors were sure he had inflammation of the brain and spinal area. They tested for everything they could, including Lyme, West Nile, and herpes, but they could not figure out why he was sick. Without the cause, treatment wasn’t possible. Eventually, the man died of excessive fluid on the brain and brain damage.
One factor in the doctors’ inability to diagnose the man was that he had lymphoma. He was on a medication that affected the antibodies in his system. So therefore during testing, the normal antibodies against Powassan that might be seen did not exist.
However, after his death, they continued testing and finally established that it was, in fact, Powassan that had created the encephalitis that had killed him.
What changed in the testing as they continued? They used a test known as an “unbiased sequence assay”. This type of testing screens for any and all illness-causing pathogens instead of specific ones. The test called “metagenomic next-generation sequencing” actually looks at all the DNA in a sample. This is how they found out the cause of death, by finding actual DNA of Powassan in the patient. This is a rare example but shows great support for the usefulness of this type of testing.
Tick-Borne Disease Research Remains Vital
It is in the strangest of circumstances sometimes that the greatest discoveries appear. And while it is unfortunate that this man lost his life, the discovery that his passing led to may help save another.
Stories like this fascinate us at Mosquito Squad of Southeastern Massachusetts. And we hope that our continued efforts to keep you informed can slightly pique your interest as well. But as always we remind you that our main goal is to help protect from the illnesses that ticks and mosquitoes can cause and we do that by helping to eliminate them. Call us today to find out more about our barrier spray and tick tube system. You can’t catch diseases from ticks you don’t have.