If ticks were not scary enough already, there is a new tick-borne virus on the rise this year. The Powassan virus, which is rarer than the bacterium that produces Lyme but is far more deadly, is now being spread by the deer tick. The Powassan virus causes inflammation of the brain, which leads to death or permanent disability in 60 percent of cases. So far, the CDC has reported 75 confirmed cases, but this number is predicted to rise as we enter into summer and fall when ticks are more active.
Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurologic problems may occur. As of right now there is no specific treatment, but people with severe Powassan virus illness often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain.
- Many people who become infected with Powassan (POW) virus do not develop any symptoms.
- The incubation period (time from tick bite to onset of illness) ranges from about 1 week to 1 month.
- POW virus can infect the central nervous system and cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).
- Symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and seizures.
- Approximately half of survivors have permanent neurological symptoms, such as recurrent headaches, muscle wasting and memory problems.
- Approximately 10% of POW virus encephalitis cases are fatal.
- There are no vaccines or medications to treat or prevent POW virus infection.
- If you think you or a family member may have POW virus disease, see your health care provider for evaluation and diagnosis.
- Persons with severe POW illnesses often need to be hospitalized. Treatment may include respiratory support, intravenous fluids, and medications to reduce swelling in the brain.
The Powassan virus has actually been around since the mid-1950s, but was only carried by a tick that rarely ever bit humans. Everything changed recently though, when the Powassan virus was discovered being carried by a deer ticks. Deer ticks, unlike the tick that originally carried the virus, readily bite and infect humans.
A recent report from the Maine Medical Center Research Institute found that 7 percent of adult ticks and about 10 percent of ticks in the nymph stage carried the Powassan virus. To make matters worse, the Powassan virus can be transmitted from the tick in as little as 15 minutes. Lyme bacterium needs 24 hours to pass from a tick to a human.
To help keep yourself and family members safe, remember to follow our tick prevention safety tips. Our six tips will help keep your safe and tick free. Also it is important to remember if you have pets to treat them with Flea and Tick Prevention treatments to help prevent them from carrying them into your home.
If you think you or a family member may have POW virus disease, it is important to consult your healthcare provider.