What Ticks Carry Powassan Virus And Who Is Vulnerable?

Powassan virus is spread by the bite of an infected tick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Although the virus remains rare, the death rate is 10 percent among those who develop severe illness, and there have already been two fatalities in Maine and Connecticut this year; meanwhile, the number of people who have been infected has continued to rise in recent years, with 75 cases documented in the U.S. in recent years, according to the CDC.

Half of all non-fatal severe cases result in long-term complications, including headaches and memory problems.

Powassan virus is an arbovirus, part of a group of viral infections transmitted by insects known as arthropods, Daniel Pastula, an associate professor of neurology, infectious diseaes and epidemiology at the University of Colorado school of Medicine told Newsweek.

Most cases are found in the northeast and the Great Lakes regions between late spring and mid-autumn, when the Woodchuck and blacklegged or deer ticks that carry the virus are most active. Infections have also been reported in Canada and the Russian Far East.

A black-legged tick
A black-legged tick Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images/getty

"Most people who are infected have no symptoms and fully recover," Pastula said. "A subset, within one to four weeks develop a pretty bad flu-like illness. And a subset of those people develop Powassan neuroinvasive disease. That's where we are seeing the severity."

Elderly people and those who are immunocompromised are more susceptible to severe symptoms, he added.

Serious neurological symptoms

Unlike Lyme Disease—a better-known disease that is spread through a bacteria carried ticks and often leaves a hallmark bullseye rash on the skin of those it infects—there is no characteristic rash associated with Powassan virus.

Initial symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, vomiting and weakness, although some people who are infected do not have symptoms. More serious symptoms include confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking and seizures. Severe forms of the disease can lead to encephalitis, an infection of the brain, or meningitis, an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord.

The period of incubation from bite to exhibiting symptoms can be as long as one month. Because there are no medicines specifically designed to treat it, those with severe illness often need to be hospitalized to receive support for breathing and reduce brain swelling, according to the CDC.

People who live, work or spend leisure time in wooded areas are most at risk of the virus due to their greater exposure to ticks. Domestic pets such as dogs and cats, which can pick up ticks, increase the potential for exposure.

"If you don't get ticks on you, you don't have to worry about Powassan or other tick disease," Pastula says. "If you get tics on you, get them off before they attach."

Because ticks are attracted to areas with high grass, it is wise to avoid areas of dense brush when walking, and wear long pants and long sleeves when feasible, he says. Both the CDC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) websites list insect repellents that are effective against ticks.

Insect repellent spray
A woman using EPA-registered insect repellent spray Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images/Getty

And serious outdoors enthusiasts can apply permethrin, an insecticide for fabric, to the outside of their clothing. clothes. Checking for ticks after being outdoors is also an important precaution, as they are especially attracted to warm areas such as the band around the tops of socks and waistbands. The CDC website has information on how to remove ticks, if you find them.