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Maine Resident Dies From Powassan Virus—What to Know About the Tick-Borne Illness


Maine Resident Dies From Powassan Virus—What to Know About the Tick-Borne Illness

As we welcome the return of warmer weather, it’s important to be aware of ticks—and all the potential risks they carry—as you make the most of the great outdoors. On Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) announced that a resident of Waldo County, Maine, passed away after contracting Powassan virus, a rare but sometimes deadly tick-borne illness. “The adult developed neurologic symptoms and died while in the hospital,” the agency said in a statement. “This person likely became infected in Maine.” The agency did not provide further details about the person who became infected.

Ticks are tiny parasites around the size of an apple seed to the size of a poppy seed. These arachnids tend to thrive in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, which can include urban parks, gardens, and even parts of the beach—you can find them in all regions of the country. Some ticks are harmless, but others can become infected with a virus or bacterium, typically after feeding on animals, and then transmit an illness-causing pathogen to humans through a blood-sucking bite. 

Powassan virus typically spreads to humans via the blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick), which is the same type of tick that carries Lyme disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus cannot be transmitted directly from person to person. Cases of Powassan virus are still extremely rare in the U.S., but have risen slightly over the years. Since 2011, 178 cases have been reported across the country, most of which are reported in the northeast and Great Lakes regions during the warmest months (spring through mid-fall), when the creatures are most active and people tend to get outside more. 

According to the CDC, Powassan virus symptoms tend to appear about a week to a month after a person is bitten by an infected tick, if symptoms develop at all. These can include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. In some cases, the virus can lead to neurological issues, such as infection of the brain (known as encephalitis) or infection of the membranes around the brain and…

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