Maine resident dies of rare tick virus

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A person in eastern Maine has died of a rare virus spread by an infected tick.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the Waldo County person got the Powassan virus.

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They developed neurological symptoms and died while in the hospital.

The person was likely infected in Maine, the agency said.

Main has identified 14 cases of the Powassan virus since 2010. Cases of the virus are rare in the United States, with about 25 cases reported each year since 2015.

Humans become infected with the Powassan virus through the bite of an infected deer or tick.

According to the center, Powassan is a flavivirus and currently the only well-documented tick-borne arbovirus to occur in the Americas and Canada.

It was first recognized in the city of Powassan, Ontario, in 1958.

People who spend time outdoors are most at risk for Powassan encephalitis.

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Signs and symptoms of Powassan virus infection usually start one week to one month after the tick bite.

These may include fever, headache, neck pain, weakness, confusion, difficulty speaking, loss of coordination and seizures. Many develop no symptoms.

The Powassan virus can cause swelling of the brain, and about half of the survivors have permanent brain damage.

About one in every 10 cases ends in death.

The center advises people to talk to their doctor if they have signs or symptoms after being bitten by a tick. The virus is diagnosed based on these indicators and confirmed by spinal fluid or blood tests.

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There is no specific treatment for Powassan, and serious illness may include supportive care at the hospital.

The best way to prevent Powassan is to prevent tick bites by using an EPA-approved repellent, wearing hidden long-sleeved shirts and pants when you are outside, keeping lawns mowed and leaves torn, and performing daily tick checks on humans and pets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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