The Jamestown Canyon Virus is now in Maine. And right in my county too, which makes me feel like I should close the windows and slather on something to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Definitely never go outside again.
When Stephen King writes about strange creatures prowling the woods of Maine, even he didn’t think he was telling the truth. He just got the size of the creatures wrong. Instead of demon-possessed dogs, we’ve got demon-possessed mosquitoes?
Barely a month ago we had an outbreak of Powassan virus, which sounds a lot like something you’d get from defiling a Native American burial ground. Now we’ve got something that combines the puritanical Jamestown with pioneer Daniel Boone’s canyons. Maybe our ancestors really are spinning over in their graves?
Jamestown Canyon virus was discovered, you guessed it, in Jamestown Canyon, Colorado, back in 1961. It’s part of a viral family that has about 170 members, all of them with strange sounding names. Maybe it’s time to stop calling viruses after where you find them. Other members of the Jamestown family include the Main Drain virus and the Mahogany Hammock virus (both real!). It’s hard to imagine doctors taking a case of Mahogany Hammock illness as seriously as they should.
None of the Jamestown family of viruses is well-known, mostly because they haven’t caused much illness in the U.S. Jamestown itself is one of the most dangerous ones and caused 31 cases in the thirteen years between 2000-2013. But if you look at the chart of those illnesses, it tells a different story. Almost all of the cases have been in the last few years, which means cases are increasing (or we’re just testing more for the illness). Of the 31 cases, only half were hospitalized with meningitis and there were no deaths.
What does Jamestown feel like? A case in Montana was described as: “fever, severe frontal headache, dizziness, left-sided numbness, and tingling.” Not something you’d ignore. That patient was initially diagnosed with West Nile virus because he had antibodies and only later diagnosed with Jamestown.
So should we all fear Jamestown Canyon virus? Maybe, but it’s likely that it’s a lot more widespread than the severe cases. In a study of Michigan residents, 27% of them had antibodies to Jamestown Canyon virus. The culprit appears to be the nearness of the person to white-tailed deer, who are the primary carriers of the virus with the mosquitoes as intermediaries. Can we have a show of hands of the number of Mainers who think we don’t all live in proximity to white-tailed deer? Yep. About one in four of you have likely already had Jamestown Canyon virus. And if you get symptoms of left sided numbness and tingling combined with a severe frontal headache, get to an ER in any case. Stroke, not a rare virus, is your primary concern.