Two cases of a rare tick-related illness have been confirmed in North Jersey, health officials have said.

Officials at the Sussex County Division of Health on Saturday said they were investigating the cases of Powassan virus, which is spread through a bite from an infected black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick.

One person who tested positive for the virus died in May, but the cause of death has not been determined, the New Jersey Herald reported. The victim was 80 and suffered from a number of unrelated medical issues, his family told the newspaper. The other person who tested positive is recovering at home, the Herald reported.

The number of reported cases of those infected with Powassan virus has increased in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, 33 cases were confirmed throughout the United States, up from just two cases in 2008.

The disease can cause inflammation of the brain, and the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms, which can occur from one week to one month after a tick bite, can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and seizures, according to the CDC.

There may be long-term neurological problems related to the virus, according to New Jersey health officials.

People who spend time outdoors in areas where the virus is endemic are at increased risk of infection. Most cases are found the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, and occur primarily in the late spring, early summer, and mid-fall, when ticks are most active, the CDC reported.

Tips for avoiding tick bites from the CDC:
  • Avoid contact with ticks by walking in the center of trails. Ticks are found in wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.
  • Use repellents approved by the Environmental Protection Agency that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone.
  • Always check clothing, gear, and pets for ticks after spending time outdoors.
  • Check your body for ticks, including under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, on the back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist.