You may have heard in the news recent­ly about the tick borne virus, Powas­son, being spread in the north east and the great lakes region. Warn­ings released from sev­er­al health offi­cials have prompt­ed news out­lets to pick up the sto­ry… but the head­lines, and even the arti­cles, are very mis­lead­ing. A prime exam­ple is this arti­cle:

Its titled “Worse Than Lyme: New Dead­ly Tick Dis­ease” and warns of a lyme type dis­ease being seen in the north­east. It cites sev­er­al doc­tors and stud­ies and warns the dis­ease is poten­tial­ly fatal. The imme­di­ate reac­tion to this is “omg, I’m out­side a lot, can I get this? Am I going to die from this?” But that is exact­ly what the media out­lets want you to believe… which is why they have such an eye grab­bing head­line. The arti­cle, and many oth­ers I have read, only tell half of the sto­ry.

A much more fac­tu­al arti­cle warns of the dis­ease but also lays to rest the hype sur­round­ing it.

This arti­cle, titled “Powas­san — Tick-Borne Ter­ror Virus Or Too Much Media Hype?”, warns of the dis­ease but as you would expect, dis­pels with the doom and gloom and gives the facts (and pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures you can take) regard­ing the new dis­ease.

Powas­san is a brain infec­tion, it can be fatal, and its infec­tion speed is very, very fast… if thats all that is report­ed, it seems to be cause for alarm. How­ev­er, it is an infec­tion that can be treat­ed with antibi­otics and its lethal­i­ty rate is only 10%… and over the last 10 years it has been diag­nosed 50 times… so doing the math, 5 peo­ple have died. A per­son is far more like­ly to con­tract lyme dis­ease, west nile, or the flu than they are Powas­san…. and each those ill­ness­es cause deaths more deaths year­ly in the US than Powas­san has in the last 10 years. Also, think about that, the last 10 years….its not new, it just hap­pens to be seen in a new area and may effect a new seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion so claim­ing it is a new dis­ease is very mis­lead­ing.

This is a case of the media get­ting hold of a fac­tu­al piece of infor­ma­tion and run­ning with a head­line to get you to click a web link or tune in at 6… both of which gen­er­ate them rev­enue in adver­tis­ing dol­lars. Its akin to yel­low jour­nal­ism and quite frankly, irre­spon­si­ble. So the moral of the sto­ry is, don’t believe a head­line… do you due dili­gence and you’ll see there are rea­sons, as always, to be pre­pared (with knowl­edge of tick species, appro­pri­ate bug spray, fre­quent tick checks, etc) but lit­tle rea­son to be alarmed.

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