Health Officials Urge Protection Against Tick Bites After 1st Case of Powassan Virus in CT in 2022

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A Windham man has tested positive for Powassan virus and is the first case in the state this year, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Health officials are urging residents to take action to prevent tick bites.

The man is between 50 and 59 years old and became ill during the fourth week of March, according to the state.

Laboratory tests done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, confirmed the presence of antibodies to Powassan virus, health officials said.

The man, who was hospitalized with a central nervous system disease and had a known tick bite, has been discharged and is recovering at home, according to the Department of Health.  

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.

How Powassan Virus is Spread and How to Prevent It

"The identification of a Connecticut resident with Powassan virus associated illness emphasizes the need to take actions to prevent tick bites from now through the late fall," Department of Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD said in a statement.

"Using insect repellent, avoiding areas where ticks are likely, and checking carefully for ticks after being outside can reduce the chance of you or your children being infected with this virus."

Juthani said the virus is usually spread through the bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick.

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

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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