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Powassan virus and ticks

Tick season is in full swing–which means enjoying outdoor activities can put your family in the crosshairs of these parasites. Areas with tall grass or wooded environments are notorious for ticks and deer ticks, which are known carriers of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease. In the last few years, cases of deer ticks spreading Powassan virus have been on the rise–and in May of 2023, the first fatal case of this virus was reported

Although Powassan virus is extremely rare, awareness surrounding the virus is more important than ever. With the correct information and preventative steps, the Powassan virus can be avoided. Keep reading to learn from our experts and see how you can enjoy the great outdoors this season without worrying about the dangers of ticks.

tick on a grass blade

What is the Powassan virus?

You're not alone if you haven’t heard of the Powassan virus. Since 2014, there have only been almost 300 cases of the virus, two of those being in 2023. This year, the virus proved to be fatal, with one death in Maine. Lyme disease, on the other hand, is the most common tick-borne illness. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year. So, why is the Powassan virus worth noting if so few cases exist? 

The main difference between the Powassan virus and Lyme disease is the transmission time and the intensity of the virus. The Powassan virus can be transmitted from tick to host in as little as 15 minutes. Lyme bacteria typically takes as little as 36 hours, even if symptoms of the two manifest themselves at roughly the same time. 

Powassan virus can lead to severe neurological problems, such as confusion, seizures, memory loss, and brain or spinal cord swelling. The fatality rate is 10%, and about 50% of those people who develop neurological symptoms end up with long-term conditions.

Powassan virus symptoms

Most people infected with the virus don’t develop neurological symptoms, but those who do may experience the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle soreness/weakness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

If infected, these symptoms would manifest themselves anywhere from a week to a month after the infection. Unlike Lyme disease, there are no treatments to fight the Powassan virus. Seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms to prevent long-term damage. 

The biggest cause of concern surrounding the Powassan virus, like all viruses, is that antibiotics do not work. Specific medications are only available for a few viral infections worldwide. If caught early enough, Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection, is treatable. Conversely, the Powassan virus is more likely to cause significant damage to one’s nervous system. 

Tick prevention is key

Outdoor trail with a tick prevention warning sign

Because of the speed at which the Powassan virus spreads and the lack of treatment options, the best way you can protect yourself and others is to prevent tick bites. Follow these simple tips this summer to stay protected from ticks: 

  • Avoid high-brush areas
  • Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks quickly
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors
  • Tuck pants inside socks or boots
  • Apply repellent, like DEET, when outdoors
  • Launder any suspected clothing right away
  • In your yard:
    • Keep grass and vegetation cut short
    • Remove leaf litter
    • Remove food and harborage sites that attractive to rodents and wildlife

If you have been in an area with high brush, check for ticks immediately and often. Check areas of exposed skin for ticks latched on to your body and remove any ticks as recommended by the CDC. Preventing a disease from spreading right away could be the difference between developing severe health issues down the road and remaining healthy.

Professional tick control

Avoid tick-borne illnesses like the Powassan virus and Lyme disease with the help of your local Ehrlich pest technicians. We will create a comprehensive tick control solution plan to protect your family and pets from tick-borne illnesses. Call 888-986-2074 or contact us online to learn more about our mosquito and tick control service.

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