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Research Aims to Curb Spread of Dangerous Powassan Virus

U of G researcher Nicole Nemeth is studying the transmission and spread of the tick-borne virus

In 1958, an unknown virus infected a five-year-old boy in the town of Powassan, Ont., near North Bay. He became very ill and ultimately died. Because the virus had not been previously identified, the medical experts named it Powassan virus after the boy’s hometown.

Research done in the 1980s discovered the Powassan virus is transmitted by ticks, like Lyme disease, but by a different type of tick (Ixodes cookei). Wild animals that are bitten by these ticks can become infected with Powassan virus, but in most cases, likely don’t get sick. When the infectious ticks bite humans, however, the virus may cause serious disease that can be fatal. It’s also on the increase, with an outbreak in Ontario in the summer of 2015, and more cases appearing each year in the U.S.

“We know little about the transmission ecology of this virus, including which wildlife species play important roles in disease spread. We know that the virus is historically present in Ontario, but current information on its distribution in the province is lacking,” says Nicole Nemeth, a pathobiology professor at the Ontario Veterinary College. She is beginning a multi-year study funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to explore some of these questions.

Read full article by Teresa Pitman on the University of Guelph website.