Groundhogs, squirrels, and skunks, oh my!
Powassan virus (POWV) is a tick-borne zoonotic disease that affects the neurological system. It was first diagnosed in 1958 in Powassan, Ontario. There have been 27 reported cases in humans in North America since its discovery. There are two genetic variants that are carried by two species of ticks, Ixodes cookei and I. scapularis (the same tick that carries Lyme disease). I. cookei are found on wildlife species such as groundhogs, striped skunks, and other mammals that may frequent groundhog burrows.
Tick checking groundhogs, squirrels and skunks
Currently, the distribution of POWV, its prevalence in wildlife species and ticks, and its transmission are poorly understood. Researcher Kathryn Smith, a graduate student in Dr. Nicole Nemeth’s lab at the Ontario Veterinary College is working with post-doc Paul Oesterle, and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to better understand POWV in southwestern Ontario. They are live trapping species of interest (groundhogs, squirrels, and striped skunks) to collect tick and blood samples for testing before releasing them back to the wild. They are also collecting tissue and blood samples from wildlife carcasses, and will drag for ticks. Research like Kathryn’s aims to improve our understanding of the transmission of vector-borne diseases in the face of a changing climate, and helps identify potential risks to livestock and human health.
Learn more about POWV at the PHAC website: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/msds121e-eng.php
University of Guelph news bulletin: http://news.uoguelph.ca/2015/12/17977/
This is part of a series of photo essays submitted by the wildlife rotation students at the Ontario Veterinary College and the Ontario/Nunavut region of the CWHC. You can find this and more on our Instagram!