What to know about the tick-borne illness

This potentially fatal tick-borne illness is commonly linked to deer ticks. According to the Department of Public Health, the disease is rare but usually goes undetected. 

“It’s not like we’re doing surveillance studies of Powassan virus, in the sense that many people who get tick bites might be completely asymptomatic from it,” said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani on Wednesday. “We don’t even know they had Powassan, it came and went, and that’s it.”

From symptoms to preventative care, here is what you need to know about the Powassan virus in Connecticut.

What is the Powassan virus?

According to DPH, the Powassan virus is a rare and emerging virus that can come from a tick bite. The disease belongs to a family of viruses that causes infection in the brain or membranes around the brain and spinal cord. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the number of cases of the Powassan virus has risen in recent years. A scholarly article published by the National Library of Medicine states that between 1999 to 2016, cases of the Powassan virus rose over 671 percent. 

Where does the Powassan virus come from?

The Powassan virus is most prominently found in infected deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis), according to the CDC. Most cases of diseases are found the northeastern and Great Lakes regions of the country. Futhermore, infections are most likely to occur between late spring and mid-fall.

What are the symptoms of the Powassan virus?

The CDC says that symptoms can develop between a week and month after the tick bite. However, many people with the virus do not exhibit symptoms at all. Initial symptoms of the virus can include fever, headache, vomiting and weakness. Other symptoms can include confusion, loss of coordination and difficulty speaking. 

In some cases, sever infections can result in symptoms such as tremors, seizures, paralysis, coma or death.

It is recommended to seek a doctor if you start exhibiting any of the symptoms from a tick bite or feel as though you’ve been possibly exposed to the virus. There are also other tick-borne illness to monitor as well including Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis and Tularemia.

How do you test for Powassan virus?

According to the CDC, laboratory testing is necessary to determine if a patient has been infected. The most common type is antibody testing, but molecular tests may also be done.

Can I spread the Powassan virus?

According to the CDC, the Powassan virus cannot be transmitted through coughing, sneezing or touching. In rare instances, the Powassan virus has spread from person-to-person through blood transfusion. 

How deadly is the Powassan virus?

The New York Department of Health lists that approximately 10 percent of all Powassan virus cases are fatal. There is also currently no cure to the disease. Medical professionals will instead attempt to treat the symptoms of the disease. In some cases, those with severe cases will need to be hospitalized. 

What is the best way to prevent getting Powassan virus?

The best way to prevent getting the virus is by taking basic steps to prevent tick bites.

A key thing to know in order to prevent tick bites is whether the area you will be in has a high density population of ticks. Using EPA-registered insect repellents, wearing protective clothing over your extremities and avoiding highly-wooded areas help prevent tick bites. When you are back indoors after being in an area where you suspect there are ticks, it is important to check your clothes and gear for ticks. Additionally, be sure to check on your furry friends if they were also with you. Showering also reduces the risk of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease.

It is also important to check your body for any ticks. Areas where ticks may be hiding include your hair, your ears, under your arms, between your legs, back of your knees, around your waist and inside your belly button. 

The CDC lists a number of tips and tricks to prevent ticks from being in your yard and off your pets.