You may have recently heard alarming news about a tick-borne illness that is even more dangerous than Lyme disease. Powassan, a virus carried by deer ticks, is a rare illness but a potentially deadly one. And, with the tick population increasing every summer, you cannot be too careful when it comes to preventative measures and knowing the symptoms.
What is Powassan?
Powassan is a virus that humans can contract through a tick bite. Many infected people never show symptoms, while some will only experience mild symptoms. But Powassan has the potential to infect the central nervous system (CNS), in which case it is extremely dangerous.
If Powassan does infect the CNS, there is a 10 percent chance that it will be fatal. Those who survive a CNS infection have about a 50 percent chance of living the rest of their lives with permanent neurological symptoms, including recurrent headaches and memory problems.
There is no cure for Powassan and no vaccination against it. If Powassan infects the CNS, it is treated with IV fluids and medication to reduce brain swelling.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of Powassan are similar to the flu: fever, headache, muscle aches or weakness, vomiting, and perhaps a rash. Many people never develop more serious symptoms, and are able to recover from the infection on their own.
If Powassan infects the CNS, however, symptoms will become more serious. Patients may experience confusion, memory loss, seizures, and difficulty breathing, or inability to breathe on their own.
Symptoms of Powassan can appear anywhere from one week to one month after being bitten by a tick. Severe symptoms, like seizures and respiratory distress, usually appear within a couple of days of the initial symptoms, if they appear at all.
How common is Powassan?
The good news is that Powassan is a rare illness. Over the past decade, there have only been 75 reported cases in the United States.
However, experts believe that the disease is on the rise, based on the fact that Powassan infections in deer seem to have increased. This could be because the tick population is increasing, due to warmer winters.
Residents in the Great Lakes region and the Northeast region of the United States are at the greatest risk for contracting Powassan.
How can I protect myself?
The best way to protect yourself from contracting a tick-borne illness is to avoid being bitten in the first place. If you like to spend time outdoors, avoid highly brushy areas, where ticks can hide and latch on to passersby. Also use a bug spray that repels ticks.
Wearing long sleeves and long pants when you are in the woods decreases your risk of being bitten, but take care that you don’t overheat.
Finally, whenever you spend time outside, you should check your entire body for ticks as soon as you come in. Put your clothes in a hot dryer to kill any ticks that may have latched on.
If you do find a tick on your body, remove it immediately with tweezers. If you develop a rash or come down with a fever within a few weeks of the tick bite, see your doctor right away.
Finally, because ticks sometimes also bite pets, don’t forget to check your furry friends!
Brocreative / Adobe Stock
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
puhhha / Adobe Stock
kalcutta / Adobe Stock