powassan virus

What to Know About Powassan Virus After 2 Cases in Conn.

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Two Connecticut residents have contracted the rare Powassan virus and one of them died, according to the state Department of Public Health, and health officials are warning residents to take precautions to prevent tick bites.

In early May, health officials said a Windham man in his 50s had the first case of the Powassan virus in the state this year and was released from the hospital.

On Tuesday, state health officials said a New London County woman in her 90s became sick in early May, two weeks after being bitten by a tick, and she was admitted to a hospital with fever, an altered mental status, a headache, chills, rigors, chest pain and nausea.

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

Her condition worsened, she ultimately became unresponsive and died of the virus on May 17, according to state Department of Health.

This is what you need to know about what the Powassan virus is, the symptoms and the precautions you can take to protect yourself.  

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 number of reported cases of people getting sick from Powassan virus has increased in recent years, the CDC said, and most of the cases in the United States happen in the northeast and Great Lakes regions between late spring and mid-fall.

Between 2017 and 2021, 12 cases of the virus were reported in Connecticut, including three in 2021. Of those 12 cases, two were fatal, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Ticks contract the illness from groundhogs, squirrels, mice, or other rodents with the virus and they can then spread Powassan virus by biting people and animals, the CDC reports. They said the virus is not transmitted from person to person, except for rare instances by blood transfusion

The extremely rare Powassan Virus was detected in the state. NBC Connecticut's Kyle Jones has more on what that means.

Powassan Virus Symptoms

It takes a week to a 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 a severe illness affecting the central nervous system.

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

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

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.

Diagnosis of Powassan Virus

A healthcare provider might diagnose Powassan virus infection based on your symptoms, your history of possible exposure to ticks that can carry Powassan virus and laboratory testing of blood or spinal fluid, according to the CDC.

Treatment of Powassan Virus

There are no medications to treat Powassan virus infection.

People with a severe case might need to be hospitalized to receive help for breathing, staying hydrated, or reducing swelling in the brain, according to the CDC.

If you think you or a family member might have Powassan virus disease, see your healthcare provider.

Prevention of Powassan Virus

You can reduce your risk of getting sick by preventing tick bites. Following are tips from the state Department of Public Health.

  • Avoid areas where ticks are likely to be, such as grassy, brushy, or wooded areas. Ticks are active from spring to fall and may also be active on warmer days during winter.
  • Consider using CDC-recommended mosquito repellents, containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535, or 2-undecanone, and apply according to directions, when outdoors.
  • Check yourself and your children for ticks immediately after coming indoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors might be effective in reducing the risk of tick-borne disease.
  • Check clothing, gear, and pets carefully after coming indoors. Tumble dry clothing for 10 minutes to kill ticks that were carried inside.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your dog.
  • Consider treating items such as boots, clothing, and hiking or camping gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.
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