Fears of Tick-Borne Powassan Virus Increasing, Experts Warn

Fears of Tick-Borne Powassan Virus Increasing, Experts Warn
Science & Medicine

After working in the garden or taking a walk in the woods, it’s a good common practice to check your body for ticks; but it’s not just Lyme disease you have to worry about anymore. Experts are warning that the Powassan virus, a tick-borne virus that can cause dangerous inflammation in the brain, may be transmitted even faster than Lyme. [1]

Powassan is still considered a rare disease; but a recent study of ticks in Maine, as well as a few widely-reported cases of human infection, suggest that the virus may becoming more common.

The Powassan Threat

Natural Society
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Powassan virus neuroinvasive disease cases reported by state, 2004–2013

The Powassan virus can cause encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, and it kills approximately 10-15% of people who become sick, according to the CDC. Half of those infected are left with permanent neurological problems. [1] [2]

Read: Powassan Virus: ‘Ticks Now Carrying Virus Worse than Lyme Disease

Dr. Jennifer Lyons, Chief of the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says:

“About 15% of patients who are infected and have symptoms are not going TO? survive. Of the survivors, at least 50% will have long-term neurological damage that is not going to resolve.” [2]

First identified in 1958, Powassan was recognized in the type of deer ticks that bite humans and also carry Lyme disease in the mid-1990s. Over the past decade, the CDC has received about 75 reports of the virus in humans, primarily in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. [1]

Scientists at the Maine Medical Research Center decided to test ticks at various sites from across the state after a Maine woman died a few weeks after being bitten by a tick and contracting Powassan virus in 2013. Two other cases were also identified.

The researchers said they “were kind of surprised” that they found as much of the virus as they did. Out of 203 different pools of adult ticks – meaning all of the ticks collected from a given area – 15 tested positive for Powassan. The researchers also found that populations of deer ticks were increasing in several areas of the state.

Now scientists are especially concerned because experts are predicting that 2017 will be an especially bad year for ticks in the Northeast. Not only is the virus transmitted much faster than Lyme, it’s also deadlier. Animal studies show that Powassan virus could be passed from tick to host after only about 15 minutes of attachment. It takes 24 hours for Lyme disease to be transmitted.


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Source: Valley News Live

Not everyone who is infected with Powassan will show symptoms. Those who do typically become sick a few days to about a week after being bitten by an infected tick. For the most part, people who become ill experience flu-like symptoms. Lyons says that these can include:

“muscle aches and pains; maybe you have a little rash on your skin, but almost certainly, you’ll have a fever and the headache.” [2]

Those who become seriously ill will do so “very quickly over the next couple of days,” Lyons explains, adding:

“You start to develop difficulties with maintaining your consciousness and your cognition. … You may develop seizures. You may develop inability to breathe on your own.” [2]

There is no way of preventing or treating Powassan virus. Says Lyons:

“There are some experimental therapies we try when somebody comes in and they get here early enough and we get the therapy started early enough, but we have no idea if any of that works.” [2]


The best way to avoid Powassan (and Lyme, for that matter) is to prevent being bitten by a tick. Avoid highly brushy areas when you’re in the woods. Wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible, use natural tick repellent, and check your entire body for the blood-sucking insects after being outdoors.

Read: How to Keep Ticks off of You, and Get Rid of Them If Needed

Don’t be afraid of “catching” Powassan virus. Your chances of being infected are very low. Take the right preventative measures and you should be fine.

Dr. Susan Paskewitz, Chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says:

“I don’t think people need to be fearful of it because it is so rare, but it is out there and it is one more reason for people to do those careful tick checks at the end of the day, or try to reduce your contact with them to begin with.” [3]


[1] Time

[2] CNN

[3] CBS News

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Valley News Live