I’ve recently been asked about the potentially deadly tick-borne illness that’s rearing its ugly head in certain parts of the country. It’s called the Powassan virus and its transmitted by deer ticks—the same ones, in fact, that carry Lyme disease.
Though only around 75 cases of Powassan virus have been reported in the U.S. in the last 10 years, more and more cases are being reported in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, which could spread to more areas of the country. And, one of the biggest concerns we have is the fact that Powassan spreads from ticks to people even faster than Lyme disease and can lead to more severe risks including long-term neurologic problems or even death.
That’s why it’s so important for everyone to be on high alert, especially during the summer, when tick-borne illnesses are on the rise and adults and children are likely to spend more time outside. In fact,
the number of tick bites already reported this year is pretty alarming, and summer hasn’t even officially begun. While there have been no cases of Powassan virus in my home state of Georgia, we’re keeping an eye out for red flags. Even though it’s relatively uncommon, especially in this area of the country, we’ve now started looking for symptoms, including fever, vomiting and weakness and testing for it in patients showing those signs. Additional symptoms include:
- Difficulty recalling memories
- Trouble walking
- Speech difficulties
- Loss of coordination
I spoke with 11 Alive about the dangers of Powassan. Check it out here!
Not all individuals affected by Powassan develop symptoms and the incubation period, or the time it takes for symptoms to start showing in the first place, can be anywhere from one week to one month.
While there are no known medications or vaccines for treating or preventing Powassan, there are treatments available. Most include hospitalization, respiratory support, intravenous fluids and medications.
The type of ticks that carry Powassan are commonly found in rural or wooded areas and are most active during this time of year, from late spring to mid-fall. But not every tick out there is infected with this virus, so don’t freak out if you find a tick on you or your child this summer. If you do find a tick on you, use a pair of thin tweezers to remove as much of the tick as possible and store it in a plastic bag to bring to your doctor’s office for testing. This way, if you do develop symptoms, they can easily determine whether or not that tick carried the virus.
Here are some easy ways to protecting you and your family from Powassan or any other tick-borne illness this summer:
- Wear insect repellent, particularly a brand that has the chemical picaridin in it. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Picaridin does not carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET, but has not been tested as much over the long term.
- Cover yourself with clothing, ideally long sleeves and pants
- Stay away from areas with heavy brush or long, unkempt grass, as this is where you’re most likely to get bit.
- When you come inside, make sure to look over your entire body (hair, armpits and creases in your skin are where ticks are commonly found).
For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.