For the last two years, Coppe Laboratories has dedicated a significant amount of time and resources to dispelling the myth that infection with Powassan virus, a virus transmitted by tick bite, is rare. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reports only 100 cases of Powassan virus infection in the United States in the last 10 years. Indeed, that statistic gives the illusion that Powassan infection is rare. However, did you know that the only infections reported to CDC are those that are life-threatening, particularly cases causing severe inflammation of the brain like the case reported in LiveScience? Coppe has published three new papers in the last year that clearly show Powassan virus infection is not rare are at all, and until testing for this virus is included as part of tick-borne disease screening panels infections will continue to be underreported. Coppe’s Powassan Guide, which can be downloaded from the website, summarizes the findings from both tick and human Powassan prevalence studies, as well as defining the patient populations that would benefit most from Powassan testing.
The article discusses the case of a man in Massachusetts that was clearly suffering from severe brain swelling. But because Powassan infection is so “rare”, testing to determine whether the virus could be contributing to the man’s illness was not performed until after his death. The authors stated, “Because the disease is so rare, there is no standard way of diagnosing it.” Coppe Laboratories offers the first commercial panel designed to detect exposure to Powassan virus throughout all stages of infection.
Coppe’s Powassan Virus Panel includes both a direct and indirect test. Direct testing looks for genetic material from the virus in blood and/ or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples. The indirect test detects antibodies produced by the patient’s immune system in response to Powassan exposure later in the course of the infection. Combining these two tests provides the greatest likelihood of detecting the virus at all time points post-infection.
The article also states, “This man’s case was even more complicated because he was taking a cancer medication that affected his immune system. As a result, standard lab tests that look for antibodies against viruses wouldn’t work, because the man wasn’t producing those antibodies.” The direct testing method, performed after the man’s death, sequenced all of the DNA and RNA in his sample. Given that most of the genetic material was from the patient himself, the approach was characterized by the authors as “looking for a needle in a haystack”. Coppe Laboratories’ direct test for Powassan is 100% specific to the virus, and can be used for detection in blood samples within the first week of infection and in CSF samples in cases presenting with brain inflammation such as this. If a patient that resides in the northeastern or Great Lakes region of the United States presents with life-threatening encephalitis, why is Powassan virus testing only performed after doctor’s rule out dozens of other viruses, bacteria and fungi? Why not test for Powassan BEFORE it’s too late?