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Volume 19, Number 4—April 2013
Letter

Powassan Virus Encephalitis, Minnesota, USA

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To the Editor: Birge and Sonnesyn report the first death of a Minnesota resident caused by Powassan virus (POWV) (1). However, they provide an inaccurate description of several critical diagnostic and surveillance issues concerning POWV.

The 17 POWV infections detected in Minnesota residents from 2008 through 2011 (6 cases were identified through 2010, not 8 as reported by Birge and Sonnesyn) (Minnesota Department of Health [MDH], unpub. data) were found through enhanced surveillance. Health alerts to Minnesota medical providers described POWV as a possible etiologic agent for viral meningitis and encephalitis. Providers consulted with MDH on suspected cases and submitted serum and cerebrospinal fluid specimens to MDH. MDH conducted serologic testing for endemic arboviruses (including POWV) and reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) for flaviviruses and POWV. MDH would not have detected any POWV infections without enhanced surveillance. Limited field studies also identified POWV-infected ticks in 4 Minnesota counties (not 2 as reported [1]) (MDH, unpub. data).

Commercial laboratories do not provide testing for POWV, and only a few state health department laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer testing. Serologic testing (enzyme immunoassay with plaque-reduction neutralization testing confirmation) is preferred (2) because POWV RT-PCRs are not validated, and the short viremic periods of flaviviruses limit their usefulness (3).

Few POWV infections are identified by lineage (prototype vs. deer tick virus); Minnesota’s first case in 2008 was identified as a deer tick virus infection, but the lineage was unknown for the other 16 cases. However, many case-patients had likely exposure to Ixodes scapularis ticks (blacklegged ticks), the tick species associated with deer tick virus transmission, and viruses from all POWV-positive tick pools were confirmed as deer tick virus by sequencing. The distribution of the 2 lineages in North America is poorly understood, and most cases likely go undetected without specific POWV surveillance efforts.

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David F. NeitzelComments to Author , Ruth Lynfield, and Kirk Smith

Author affiliations: Minnesota Department of Health, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

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References

  1. Birge  J, Sonnesyn  S. Powassan virus encephalitis, Minnesota, USA. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012;18:166971. DOIPubMed
  2. Hinten  SR, Beckett  GA, Gensheimer  KF, Pritchard  E, Courtney  TM, Sears  SD, Increased recognition of Powassan encephalitis in the United States, 1999–2005. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2008;8:73340 . DOIPubMed
  3. Lanciotti  RS. Molecular amplification assays for the detection of flaviviruses. Adv Virus Res. 2003;61:6799. DOIPubMed

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Cite This Article

DOI: 10.3201/eid1904.121651

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Table of Contents – Volume 19, Number 4—April 2013

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David F. Neitzel, Minnesota Department of Health, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, 625 Robert St N, PO Box 64975, St. Paul, MN 55164, USA

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Page created: March 13, 2013
Page updated: March 13, 2013
Page reviewed: March 13, 2013
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors' affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.
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