The burden of ticks and the pathogens they carry is increasing worldwide. Powassan virus (POWV; Flaviviridae: Flavivirus), the only known North American tick-borne flavivirus, is of particular concern due to rising cases and the severe morbidity of POWV encephalitis. Here, we use a multifaceted approach to evaluate the emergence of the II POWV lineage, known as deer tick virus (DTV), in parts of North America where human cases occur. We detected DTV-positive ticks from eight of twenty locations in the Northeast USA with an average infection rate of 1.4 per cent. High-depth, whole-genome sequencing of eighty-four POWV and DTV samples allowed us to assess geographic and temporal phylodynamics. We observed both stable infection in the Northeast USA and patterns of geographic dispersal within and between regions. A Bayesian skyline analysis demonstrated DTV population expansion over the last 50 years. This is concordant with the documented expansion of Ixodes scapularis tick populations and suggests an increasing risk of human exposure as the vector spreads. Finally, we isolated sixteen novel viruses in cell culture and demonstrated limited genetic change after passage, a valuable resource for future studies investigating this emerging virus.
Keywords: Powassan virus; deer tick virus; emerging virus; phylodynamics; tick-borne flavivirus.
© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press.