Summer is just around the corner, with its promises of baseball and barbecues, but for those of us who like to venture into the woods, it also means the beginning of tick season. While you can get a tick bite in any season, these troublesome bugs are much more active in the months of May and June.
It’s a well-known fact that ticks can transmit Lyme disease, but now health officials are warning that an even worse tick-borne illness is on the rise. Powassan virus may be rarer but is also much more debilitating. Scroll down to see why it’s considered more dangerous than Lyme disease, find out the symptoms, and how to protect yourself this summer.
10. Everyone Is At Risk
Powassan virus doesn’t discriminate. Newborns, 20-somethings, the middle-aged, elderly, those who are immunocompromised, anyone who is bitten by an infected tick is at risk of infection. Liam Phillips, shown above, was infected at age 5 months and is one of the youngest to survive. Infections are most likely to occur when ticks are more active, so doctors expect to see more cases in late spring, early summer, and mid-fall.
9. It’s Not A New Thing
The Powassan virus was first discovered in Ontario, Canada in 1958. A child developed encephalitis from a virus that had never been seen before. Scientists named it after the town where the child lived. It’s been suggested that the virus might have been found in far eastern Russia as well. Check out #8 to see why doctors are growing more concerned about it now.
8. Blame Global Warming
According to the CDC, most of the reported cases of Powassan virus over the past decade have been in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region. With two consecutive warm winters in that region, they are predicting that there will be larger numbers of ticks and higher infection rates among them.
7. It’s Frighteningly Fast
The greater number of ticks isn’t the only reason doctors are concerned about seeing more cases of Powassan, though. In animal studies, it was discovered that the Powassan virus could be transmitted from the tick to host after only about 15 minutes of attachment. For Lyme disease, it takes 24 hours. Go to the next slide for what that means for humans.
6. Scary Statistics
The Powassan virus in its most serious form can cause encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain, and about 15% of those who are infected and have symptoms will not survive. Of those who do pull through, at least 50% are left with permanent neurological problems that will never resolve.
5. What Are The Common Symptoms?
Some infected people will never show symptoms and those who do become sick usually start to display symptoms about a week after the tick bite. The most common symptoms will be fever and headache. Sometimes muscle aches and flu-like symptoms will occur. Check out the next slide for signs of the more severe form of the illness.
4. When Things Get Serious
People who are unfortunate enough to experience the more serious form of Powassan virus will start to deteriorate quickly after the first signs of symptoms. They may experience weakness, dizziness, seizures, have trouble maintaining consciousness and cognition, and they may have trouble breathing on their own. At this point, it’s imperative to see a doctor.
3. Are There Any Treatments?
As with Lyme disease, there are no vaccines to prevent Powassan infection and no specific treatment for it. Standard treatments are aimed at treating and managing the symptoms through antiviral medicines, intravenous fluids, respiratory support and sometimes systemic corticosteroids. There are some experimental therapies that have been tried, with limited success.
2. Invasion Of The Ticks
A researcher at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is predicting more new tick-borne illnesses in the coming months, due to the larger numbers of ticks they’re seeing. Historically, they don’t see many ticks come in for testing during winter months, usually a handful a month at the most. This year so far, they’ve already received hundreds, with over 1,000 in April alone.
1. Best Way To Protect Yourself
Of the three ticks that carry the Powassan virus, the deer tick is the one that is by far the most likely to bite humans. One thing all experts agree on is that the best way to guard against the virus is to prevent being bitten by a tick in the first place. If you’re going to be out in the grass, make sure you wear high socks, shoes, and hats and long sleeves if you’re going hiking.
The good news is that over the past decade there have been less than 100 confirmed cases of Powassan virus, so if you or your child are feeling a bit under the weather or running a low-grade fever, there’s probably little cause for concern. If you begin to see serious neurological symptoms though, it’s important to seek a doctor’s opinion.
The CDC says that people should protect themselves from Powassan virus the same way they do other tick-borne illnesses: by wearing insect repellent when spending time in areas where ticks are present, avoiding high brushy areas whenever possible, wearing long sleeves and pants when feasible, and inspecting clothing and skin upon returning home.