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Powassan Virus

Powassan Virus

What is Powassan Virus?

Like Lyme disease, Powassan virus is transmitted to people by ticks. Rodents carry Powassan virus in their blood; when ticks feed on infected rodents, they receive the virus. Infected ticks pass the virus to humans and other animals through bites.

Three kinds of ticks, found mostly in the eastern United States, are the predominant transmitters of the Powassan virus. These are the groundhog tick, squirrel tick, and blacklegged/deer tick. The latter often bite people, transmitting several kinds of diseases, including Powassan virus and Lyme disease.

What are Powassan virus symptoms?

It is possible to contract Powassan virus and experience no symptoms at all. For those who do have symptoms, they will feel sick from one week toone month after the tick bite. People who have been bitten by a tick should seek medical help if they develop a fever, headache, nausea/vomiting, and/or weakness.

Can Powassan virus become serious?

Yes. It can lead to dangerous diseases, such as encephalitis (infection of the brain) or meningitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). In these cases, symptoms may include confusion, difficulty speaking, seizures, and loss of coordination. One in ten people who develop a serious disease from Powassan virus die.

What is the treatment for Powassan virus?

No antidote or vaccine has been developed to treat Powassan virus. People who are hospitalized with disease resulting from Powassan virus receive respiratory support, hydrating liquids, and medications to reduce brain swelling.

How can people avoid getting the virus?

The surest way to avoid getting Powassan virus is by preventing tick bites. When going outdoors, be aware that ticks hide in grassy and wooded areas. If you plan to enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, hunting, even gardening or going for a walk, be sure to treat your clothing with repellents that contain 0.5% permethrin.

After coming inside, look for ticks on your clothing. Tumble clothes in the dryer on high heat for ten minutes. Take a shower within two hours of being outside and check your body for ticks. They may be found in these areas of the body:

  • Around the waist
  • On the backs of the knees
  • In the armpits
  • In and around the ears
  • Along the hairline and in hair
  • Between the legs
  • Inside the navel

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