powassan virus

Connecticut Woman Dies of Powassan Virus: DPH

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Department of Public Health officials said an elderly woman in Connecticut has died of Powassan virus.

A woman in her 90s became the second Connecticut resident to test positive for the virus this year.

A Windham man was the first person to test positive for Powassan virus this year, according to DPH officials.

The woman lived in New London County and became sick in early May. She was admitted to a hospital with symptoms including fever, altered mental status, headache, chills, rigors, chest pain and nausea, according to DPH.

Her condition worsened and she ultimately became unresponsive. Officials said the died of the virus on May 17, according to DPH.

DPH officials said the woman had a known tick bite which was removed two weeks before her symptoms began.

Lab tests performed by the CDC confirmed the presence of Powassan virus antibodies.

Health officials are urging residents to take action to prevent tick bites.

“This incident reminds us that residents need to take actions to prevent tick bites now through the late fall,” said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD. “DPH stresses the use of insect repellent this summer and avoiding high-risk areas, such as tall grass, where ticks may be found. It’s also important to check carefully for ticks after being outside which can reduce the chance of you and your family members being infected with this dangerous virus.”

Powassan virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected tick.

Powassan Virus in Connecticut

From 2017 to 2021, 12 cases of the virus were reported in Connecticut, including three in 2021. Of those 12 cases, two were fatal.

What is Powassan virus?

Powassan virus is a rare, but often severe disease that is caused by a virus spread from infected ticks to people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It belongs to a group of viruses that can cause infection of the brain, or encephalitis, or the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, meningitis, according to the CDC.

The CDC said the number of reported cases of people sick from Powassan virus has increased in recent years. 

Powassan Virus Symptoms

It takes a week to one month after the bite from an infected tick to develop symptoms of the disease and the virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after the tick first attaches.

Health officials said that while most people infected with Powassan virus likely experience no symptoms or a mild flu-like illness, some people will develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system.

About one out of 10 cases of severe illness are fatal and approximately half of survivors experience long-term health problems.

Severe cases might begin with fever, vomiting, headache, or weakness and rapidly progress to confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking or seizures.

They said there is no vaccine nor a specific treatment for the associated illness. Severe illness is treated by hospitalization, respiratory support and hydration. 

The state Department of Public Health has more information about what you should know about Powassan virus here.

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