There have been reported cases of Powassan virus in the past and while these are few and far between, infected patients often suffer "devastating" and even "deadly" symptoms. Travelers need to be on their guard because there is only a 50-percent survival rate for patients who are diagnosed with Powassan virus. Even survivors aren't unscathed because they "suffer from neurological damage after recovering."
The virus is transmitted through deer and groundhog tick bites. These bites can "cause the viral illnesses encephalitis and meningitis, which results in the inflammation of the meninges that line the brain and spinal cord." Since this is a virus, no cure exists. Patients can only receive supportive treatment until the illness passes.
In 2015, Durland Fish, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology (Microbial Disease) at the Yale School of Public Health, brought attention to the growing threat that is Powassan Virus via a question and answer piece.
Professor Fish said, "There has been an important change in the ecology of Powassan virus in that the deer tick has recently become infected with the virus." He continued, "Until a few decades ago, it was only transmitted by a tick species that does not commonly bite humans and human cases were extremely rare. This recent change in the ecology of Powassan virus has caused concern within the public health community."
Powassan virus is even worse than Lyme disease because the latter needs to be attached to the host for at least 24 hours before they are infected. However, in the former, transmission can occur within minutes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in the past 10 years, the majority of the people who contracted the disease did not show any symptoms. While there were only 77 cases requiring hospitalization reported in the two regions where the ticks are found, there were eight deaths among patients infected with the Powassan virus.
Professor Fish cautions that we must be more vigilant since deer ticks that can transmit Lyme disease "may now also carry Powassan," which can mean that the virus may spread even faster. The incubation period of the Powassan Virus can last from a week to a month, and symptoms may mirror those linked to the illnesses that it can cause.
The CDC warned that symptoms of viral meningitis and encephalitis can include "fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and seizures." Prevent illnesses spread by ticks or insects by using natural insect repellents, which must be "applied properly when needed."
Now that you're aware of the dangers of this illness, here are some tips to help you avoid Powassan virus: