A Maine resident died last week of a rare but potentially dangerous tick-borne illness, according to health officials.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday confirmed a fatal case of Powassan virus, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick or tick repellent.
The person, a resident of southern Maine, developed neurological symptoms and died at the hospital, according to the Maine CDC. The person has probably been infected in Maine, health officials said.
“Ticks are active and looking for a host to bite right now,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, in a press release. “I urge people and visitors to Maine to take steps to prevent tick bites.”
Cases of Powassan virus are rare in the United States, with about 25 reported each year since 2015, according to a press release from the Maine CDC.
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Protect yourself from infected ticks with life-threatening Powassan virus
Tick-borne viruses are usually contracted during outdoor activities such as camping, gardening, hunting or walking in the woods, according to Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The ticks usually feed on small rodents, where humans serve as random hosts.
Powassan virus infections most commonly occur in the northeast and upper Midwest, where ticks live, according to Weatherhead.
“Every type of tick we have in the United States has a geographic need for an area where it lives,” Weatherhead said.
Ticks can also cause other diseases including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The symptoms of Powassan virus infection usually start one week to one month after the tick bite.
People who become ill may have the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Some may experience severe neurological problems, such as encephalitis or spinal cord inflammation.
Encephalitis can be particularly dangerous or even fatal.
“That’s what’s really causing the serious illness,” Weatherhead said.
The best protection against all tick-borne diseases is to prevent tick bites. Here’s what you can do according to Weatherhead:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with tall grass.
- Use an EPA-approved repellent on the skin.
- Use permethrin on the clothes for extra protection.
- Perform cross-checks every day
- Bath or shower after getting inside to wash creeping ticks off your body. Also examine clothes, equipment and pets.
- Ask a veterinarian about tick bite prevention for cats and dogs.