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The Connecticut Department of Public Health on Wednesday released the first report of Powassan virus infection in the state last Wednesday. The Powassan virus is a rare disease spread by the same tick that causes Lyme disease, according to a recent press release.
“Identifying Connecticut residents with Powassan virus-related disease underscores the need to take measures to prevent tick bites from now until late fall,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, a commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Health.
“Using insect repellents, avoiding areas where ticks are likely to occur, and carefully checking for ticks after you’re out can reduce the chance of you or your children becoming infected with the virus.”
The Powassan virus, first discovered in Powassan, Ontario in 1958, usually spreads through the bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick, officially known as Ixodes scapularis, and can be transmitted in just 15 minutes after a tick bite, but can take a week to a month to symptoms develop, according to the issue.
This is in contrast to Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, caused by a bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi and usually transmitted 36-48 hours after a usually black-legged tick bite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .
Human infections Secondary Powassan virus infection has been identified in the United States, Canada, and Russia, with cases mainly from the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region in late spring, early summer, and mid-autumn when ticks are most active, according to the CDC.
Between 2011 and 2020, in addition to Connecticut, the following states reported cases to the CDC: Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
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Powassan cases are rare, with 20 reported to the CDC in 2020, but the number of reported cases is growing, while the CDC typically reports 30,000 cases of Lyme disease each year, but the true number is probably closer to 476,000 each year due to insufficient reporting, according to agency.
People who work outdoors and engage in recreational activities in endemic areas for the virus are at increased risk of infection.
A Connecticut patient infected with the Powassan virus is a patient in his 50s who began to feel nauseous during the fourth week of March after a tick bite. He was later hospitalized with central nervous system disease with laboratory-confirmed CDC evidence of antibodies to the virus, but has now been released and is recovering at home, the health department said in a statement.
Most people infected with the Powassan virus will develop mild or no flu-like symptoms, but some will experience severe disease affecting the central nervous system, which consists of the spinal cord and brain, according to the health department.
Early symptoms of severe illness include headache, vomiting, fever, and weakness that quickly progresses to confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, or seizures. Treatment is supportive care, which means that there are no specific drugs directed against the disease, but they are focused on the symptoms.
Approximately one in 10 cases of severe illness is fatal, and it is estimated that half of the survivors experience long-term complications.
In Connecticut, 12 cases of Powassan virus were reported from 2017 to 2021, including three in 2021 and two of 12 deaths, the statement said.
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Connecticut is a state known for tick bites, and the CDC categorizes it as a region with a high incidence of Lyme disease since 2019.
Lyme disease was first described in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 by researcher Dr. William Burgdorfer, who linked the confusing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis-like symptoms to a deer tick bite, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
He discovered that the spiral-shaped bacterium, known as the spirochete, carried by ticks, caused a condition now known as Lyme disease. The spirochete was named Borrelia burgdorferi in 1982 in his honor, according to the NIH.
An early symptom of Lyme disease is a characteristic rash that looks like “bulls-eye,” known as erythema migrans, but can later progress to joint pain and neurological problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Black-legged ticks can not only transmit Lyme disease and Powassan virus, but also other tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis, so it is possible to become infected with multiple infections at the same time, called coinfection, according to the CDC.
Some tips to prevent tick bites include: avoiding grassy, bushy, or wooded areas, using mosquito repellents recommended by the CDC, checking ticks immediately after outdoor activities, and showering within two hours of entering the area, according to the release.