A Maine resident died last week from a rare but potentially dangerous tick-borne illness, according to health officials.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Wednesday a fatal case of Powassan virus, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick or woodchuck tick.
The person, a south-central Maine resident, developed neurologic symptoms and died in the hospital, according to the Maine CDC. The person likely became infected in Maine, health officials said.
“Ticks are active and looking for a host to bite right now,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, in a press release. “I urge Maine people and visitors to take steps that prevent tick bites.”
Cases of Powassan virus are rare in the United States, with about 25 reported each year since 2015, according to a Maine CDC press release.
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protect yourself from infected ticks carrying life-threatening 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 expert in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The ticks usually feed on small rodents, with humans serving as accidental hosts.
Powassan virus infections most commonly occur in the northeast and upper Midwest, where the ticks live, according to Weatherhead.
“Each type of tick we have in the United States has a geographic need for an area where it lives,” Weatherhead said.
Ticks can also cause other diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The symptoms of Powassan virus infection usually start a week to a month after the tick bite.
People who get sick may have the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Some may experience serious neurologic problems, such as brain or spinal cord inflammation.
Brain inflammation can be particularly dangerous or even lethal.
“That’s what really causes the severe disease,” Weatherhead said.
The best protection against all tick-borne diseases is to prevent tick bites. Here is what you can do, according to Weatherhead:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with tall grass.
- Use an EPA-approved repellent on skin.
- Use permethrin on clothing for added protection.
- Perform tick checks every day
- Bathe or shower after coming inside to wash crawling ticks off your body. Also, examine clothing, gear and pets.
- Ask a veterinarian about tick bite prevention for cats and dogs.