Tick-Borne Powassan Virus Can Kill -- How to Protect Yourself

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By Cara Murez 

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 25, 2023 (HealthDay News) – Robert Weymouth, 58, of Portland, Maine, died this twelvemonth because of a tick bite.

You've apt heard of Lyme illness and nan problems it tin origin erstwhile passed to a quality done nan wound of a cervid tick. But Lyme isn’t nan only tick-borne unwellness successful nan woods.

Powassan microorganism -- a uncommon and untreatable infection -- is besides transmitted by ticks. That's nan wound that led to fatal complications successful nan lawsuit of this Maine motortruck driver.

Weymouth -- nan 3rd Powassan decease since 2015 successful Maine and nan first this twelvemonth -- apt contracted nan microorganism successful nan state, according to Maine's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He developed neurological symptoms and died successful nan hospital.

His widow, Annemarie Weymouth, is now informing others astir protecting themselves from nan illness.

"He was successful there, but he couldn't move his body. He could constituent to words connected a board. He pointed to 'scared,' 'afraid,' 'frustrated,'" Weymouth told CBS News.

True lawsuit numbers unknown

“Because it's comparatively uncommon to make nan diagnosis, there's a batch we don't know,” said Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology astatine Yale University.

But here's what is known:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received 189 reports of Powassan infection betwixt 2012 and 2021.

Most U.S. cases of Powassan microorganism hap successful nan Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Maine had 4 cases past twelvemonth alone.

Though ticks are arachnids for illustration spiders, nan microorganism is not truthful different from immoderate viruses successful which a mosquito is nan vector, specified arsenic dengue and Zika. Other than its transmission by a tick, Powassan microorganism is “in nary way, style aliases shape thing for illustration Lyme disease,” Shapiro said.

Powassan microorganism is intimately related to thing called tick-borne encephalitis, which is simply a microorganism peculiarly seen successful Central Eastern Europe and Eurasia, Shapiro said.

The Powassan microorganism severely affects only a mini number of group each year. But it's imaginable galore others are asymptomatic aliases person insignificant aliases flu-like symptoms and aren’t diagnosed.

The microorganism sewage its sanction from its find successful a 5-year-old boy who died of nan microorganism successful nan precocious 1950s successful Powassan, Ontario, Canada.

Experts deliberation it utilized to beryllium transmitted chiefly by nan groundhog tick, which typically did not provender connected humans. Instead, it fed mostly connected skunks, groundhogs and squirrels, Shapiro said.

At immoderate point, it moved to cervid ticks, and those are ticks that commonly wound humans.

Brain inflammation

There are still galore mysteries to unravel concerning Powassan virus. For example, though immoderate investigation has suggested that arsenic galore arsenic 5% of cervid ticks successful immoderate areas of Connecticut are affirmative for nan virus, that’s not showing up successful precocious numbers of Powassan quality infection, Shapiro said.

But cases are rising, according to CDC numbers, said Dr. Nicole Baumgarth, an immunologist astatine Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Yet it’s not clear whether location are really much group becoming infected aliases if doctors are testing for it much frequently, she said.

“There is nary treatment, different than benignant of wide support of an individual who has nan disease,” Baumgarth said. “The astir superior unwellness associated pinch Powassan is inflammation of nan brain, aliases encephalitis, but not everybody who gets infected pinch this microorganism will create these very terrible cases.”

Other symptoms tin see fever, chills, fatigue, rash connected trunk of nan body, musculus weakness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and cervix stiffness, according to Yale Medicine.

However, nan immense mostly of those infected apt will person nary symptoms aliases insignificant symptoms and not beryllium diagnosed.

For those who do person symptoms terrible capable to beryllium diagnosed, typically pinch encephalitis, nan decease complaint is location betwixt 10% and 30%, Shapiro said.

Keep successful mind, however, it is rare. "It is simply a small scary, but it is simply a uncommon disease,” Baumgarth said.

With Lyme disease, nan tick has to beryllium attached for astir a time aliases truthful to transmit its infection. Pulling nan tick disconnected promptly puts you astatine debased consequence of infection. If it’s been longer, a azygous dose of doxycycline is moderately effective successful preventing infection. However, Baumgarth noted that nan Powassan pathogen tin beryllium transmitted faster than Lyme bacteria, "so it's difficult to outrun that."

Prevention is nan champion cure

You tin return immoderate precautions to limit tick vulnerability erstwhile spending clip successful grassy aliases wooded areas that tin harbor ticks, Baumgarth and Shapiro said.

Wear agelong sleeves and agelong pants, pinch nan bottoms of nan pants tucked wrong socks.

Wear light-colored clothing truthful that immoderate ticks mightiness beryllium visible. Remove them correct away.

Use an insect repellent that has 30% DEET. Another repellent, permethrin, is meant to beryllium applied to clothing.

After you return from hiking, lavation apparel and spot successful a basking dryer. If it’s basking enough, that will termination ticks.

Check yourself for ticks aft you return, ablution instantly and person personification other cheque successful places you can’t see, if possible.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has much connected nan Powassan virus.

SOURCES: Eugene Shapiro, MD, professor, pediatrics and epidemiology, vice chair for research, Department of Pediatrics, and lawman director, investigative medicine PhD program, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Nicole Baumgarth, DVM, PhD, immunologist, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore; CBS News

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