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Officials Warn Of Dangers Of Tick-Borne Powassan Virus

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Poughkeepsie high school senior died suddenly, after he was bitten by a tick and contracted a severe virus.

As CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan reported, Joseph Elone's family said doctors had been treating their son for a summer cold – until he collapsed on the front lawn.

WEB EXTRA: CDC Information On Lyme Disease | CDC Information On Powassan Virus

Elone, 17, was actually a ticking timebomb. He was completely unaware that he had contracted an emerging and rare tick-borne disease.

Identified as Powassan virus, the disease is thought to be transmitted into the bloodstream within minutes of a tick bite.

"Powassan virus can enter the blood within 15 minutes, but this was a measure they learned using mice as a study, so we can't know exactly how it works with humans and how quickly it works," said Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kafuman of Cornell University.

Gangloff-Kaufman, who is also a pest scientist for New York State, showed CBS 2 the belly of a microbe-carrying infectious tick. She said the symptoms of Powassan can mimic those of the West Nile virus – leaving no telltale marks until the sudden onslaught of encephalitis.

Mosquito-borne encephalitis is what was thought to have killed George Cody of Carle Place, Long Island. But his widow, Barbara –- who will not leave home without long pants and sleeves and bug spray – has been wondering if ticks and Powassan played a role.

"We never saw markings on him--48 hours," she said. "He just became catatonic, actually,"

Since hearing about the worrisome scourge of West Nile, and now Powassan, the Giambalvo family of Babylon has decided to take on changes.

"I went in the house screaming," said daughter Sabina, who had suffered a bug bite.

It turned out the bite was nothing serious. But Sabina's father, Enzo, remained vigilant.

"We check for ticks, her hair when we give baths; we check the whole body to see if we see anything of concern," Enzo Giambalvo said.

Doctors advise taking no chances if you have trouble breathing or experience disorientation.

"Severe headache, fevers, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches" are also signs of danger, said Dr. Susan Donelan of Stony Brook University Medical Center.

There is currently no treatment for Powassan, which is fatal in 30 percent of cases. New York State lawmakers are now pushing for more federal dollars to combat the illness.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has reminded the public just how dangerous the virus can be.

"It's not your average Lyme disease. It's transmitted within 15 minutes of the bite. Lyme disease, if you see a tick on you and pull it off within 24 hours you won't get it," Schumer said last week of Powassan virus. "For Powassan, you have a one out of three chance of actually dying if you get bitten by it. It's a deadly disease and there is no cure."

Most of the cases of Powassan so far have been recorded in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

Doctors advise using repellent when you are outdoors, and wearing long pants and sleeves to protect from ticks and mosquitoes.

Doctors were set to host a forum on Powassan – as well as West Nile and Lyme disease – at the Seaford Library Monday night.

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