Tick populations are rising. Are you at risk of this deadly virus?
But Lyme disease isn’t the only tick-borne illness you need to keep on your radar as a result of rising tick populations: Powassan virus, a rare but deadly disease transmitted by deer, or blacklegged, ticks may be on the rise, according to CNN.
Over the past decade, about 75 cases of Powassan virus has been reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Many people who are infected don’t show any symptoms, but if you do, you may experience fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and seizures. The virus can also infect your central nervous system, causing meningitis or an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis.
What’s more, about half of survivors continue to have persistent neurological symptoms, such as recurrent headache, muscle wasting, and memory problems. And in cases of encephalitis, nearly 10 percent are fatal, the CDC says.
And the transmission of disease from tick to human is way quicker with Powassan than with Lyme. A tick generally needs to attach to its host for 36 to 48 hours to transmit the Lyme bacteria. But transmission of the Powassan virus can occur as quickly as 15 minutes after the tick attaches, a new report from the CDC says. (Yes, you can get Lyme disease without ever seeing a tick on you—here’s how.)
About seven cases of Powassan were reported annually over the last 10 years, according to the CDC report. While cases more commonly occur in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, states like Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia have each reported their first cases within the last seven years. That may represent a spread of the virus, the researchers say.
There are currently no vaccines or medications to treat Powassan virus. That’s why avoiding ticks in the first place is extremely important: Avoid ticky-heavy, wooded areas, use insect repellants like DEET or clothes treated with permethrin, and conduct full-body checks after going outdoors to see if any of the little buggers are on you, the CDC says. (Find one on you? Here’s the smartest way to remove a tick.)