A rare and deadly tick-borne virus may have struck two New Jersey residents from Sussex County, killing one and leaving another with reportedly severe complications.
Former U.S. Marine Armand Desormeaux, 80, died on May 16, following sudden medical deterioration, his daughter, Dianne Desormeaux Rude, told the New Jersey Herald. A second currently unidentified Sussex County resident was confirmed to have the virus and is “recovering at home,” a spokesperson said on behalf of the New Jersey Department of Health.
According to Rude’s Facebook page, the second person may be a 20-something-year-old man who “survived with severe neurologic[al] issues.”
Though Desormeaux’s cause of death is still being determined, Rude told the New Jersey Herald she learned last Monday that her father had tested positive for Powassan (POW) virus.
“He was having seizures, shaking uncontrollably,” Rude said of her father. Though he had medical issues prior to his tick bite sustained in mid-April, Rude insists Desormeaux was relatively active before running a high fever on May 6. She initially believed he might have Lyme disease.
Powassan is rarer than Lyme and spread through an infected deer tick or woodchuck tick, according to the Sussex County Department of Health. Unlike Lyme, which can also be carried by the deer or black-legged tick, there is no known cure for Powassan, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine to guard against POW.
Many people infected won’t display symptoms, though symptoms (including fever, encephalitis, meningitis, memory loss, and trouble speaking) can manifest anywhere from a week to a month following the bite. Nearly half of survivors will sustain “permanent neurological symptoms, such as recurrent headaches, muscle wasting and memory problems,” reports the CDC, and about 10% of the related encephalitis cases prove fatal.
The Sussex County Division of Health released a set of tips Saturday to help people avoid POW, including telling people to “cover up” when outside, maintain the cleanliness of their yards, and “always walk in the center of trails.”
If the Division of Health determines Desormeaux’s death was caused by Powassan, his would mark the first Powassan fatality in the county, and second in New Jersey’s history — the first being a 51-year-old Warren County woman who died in 2013.