A Maine resident died last week of a rare but potentially dangerous tick-borne disease, according to health officials.
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday confirmed a fatal case of the Powassan virus, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected tick or groundhog.
The person, a resident of south-central Maine, developed neurological symptoms and died in hospital, according to the Maine CDC. The person was likely infected in Maine, health officials said.
“Ticks are active and looking for a host to bite at this time,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a news release. “I urge Maine residents and visitors to take steps to avoid tick bites.”
Powassan virus cases are rare in the United States, with about 25 cases reported each year since 2015, according to a Maine CDC press release.
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Protect yourself by infected ticks carrying the potentially deadly Powassan virus
Tick-borne viruses are usually contracted during outdoor activities such as camping, gardening, hunting or walking in the woods, according to Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. . Ticks typically feed on small rodents, with humans serving as incidental hosts.
Powassan virus infections most often occur in the northeast and upper Midwest, where the ticks live, according to Weatherhead.
“Every type of tick that we have in the United States has a geographic need for an area where it lives,” Weatherhead said.
Ticks can also cause other illnesses, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Symptoms of Powassan virus infection usually begin a week to a month after the tick bite.
People who get sick may have the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Some may experience serious neurological problems, such as inflammation of the brain or spinal cord.
Brain inflammation can be particularly dangerous, even fatal.
“That’s what really causes the severe illness,” Weatherhead said.
The best protection against all tick-borne diseases is to prevent tick bites. Here’s what you can do, according to Weatherhead:
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass.
- Use an EPA-approved repellent on the skin.
- Use permethrin on clothing for extra protection.
- Perform tick checks daily
- Take a bath or shower after going indoors to wash crawling ticks off your body. Also examine clothing, equipment and pets.
- Ask a veterinarian about preventing tick bites for cats and dogs.