Uncommon, tick-borne Powassan virus worries some experts about its possible spread

May 7, 2017 7:30 pm Last Updated: May 7, 2017 7:30 pm

A rare, tick-borne virus similar to Lyme disease may be emerging in the United States, experts have warned this week.

Powassan virus is much rarer than the bacteria that produces Lyme, and it’s also transmitted by the deer tick. It causes brain inflammation, which can cause death or permanent disability, NBC’s Today.com reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 75 instances of Powassan across the U.S. Last week, a 5-month-old child was diagnosed in Connecticut.

“The bottom line is that we should be very scared of it because nobody is safe from it,” said Dr. Jennifer Lyons, with the Harvard Medical School, told Today.com. “And it could be that it is emerging and will explode over the next few years.”

But the disease is relatively rare in Canada, Dr. Matthew Gilmour told Yahoo News. “Thankfully, it’s actually in very few ticks,” he told CTV on Thursday. “We’ve done a lot of testing of ticks, we’ve tested thousands of them, and we’ve found only a handful of ticks are carrying this virus.”

Symptoms of the virus include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Speech difficulties
  • Seizures

According to Yahoo, prevention tips include:

  • Wear long pants if you’re out on a hike
  • Use insect repellent
  • Checking your entire body for ticks after time spent in wooded areas
  • Carefully remove any you find as soon as possible
  • For those in rural areas, keep grass on your property short and rake up leaves
  • If you develop an unexplained fever and a headache after time in the woods, see your doctor

Dr. Susan Paskewitz, the chair of the department of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told CBS: “There’s no spot left where we’ve gone looking for them and we haven’t found them.”

She added: “Now when I teach the class, it’s 3,000 cases each year.”


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