The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that a person died after being infected with the tick-borne Powassan virus. According to health officials, the virus is spread through the bite of an infected deer tick, groundhog tick, or squirrel tick. And cases appear to be on the rise.
According to the CDC, there were just 44 cases between 2011 and 2015.
Since 2016 and 2020 though, there have been 134 cases reported.
In fact, annual cases of all tick-borne diseases reported to the CDC more than doubled between 2004 and 2019, rising from 22,527 in 2004 to more than 50,000 in 2019.
According to a 2021 paper in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the CDC numbers are also likely vastly underreported.
Nirav D Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said: “Ticks are active and looking for a host to bite right now.
“I urge Maine people and visitors to take steps that prevent tick bites.”
Many of those infected with Powassan will not experience any symptoms and will be perfectly fine.
But some can develop a serious infection of the brain, or of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Symptoms of these potentially serious conditions can include confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking and seizures.
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The death rate is around 10 percent, according to the CDC.
In the Maine case, the patient developed neurologic symptoms and died while in the hospital.
The increase in Powassan virus cases in the US in recent years has been linked with the expansion of the range for deer ticks thanks to climate change.
In February, more than 90 percent of ticks sampled in the Lawrence Township Recreational Park, in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, were found to carry the rare and potentially fatal Deer Tick Virus.
For comparison, the highest infection rate previously recorded at a single location in Pennsylvania was only 11 percent — and for the whole of the US around 25 percent.
Last year, the statewide average infection rate for Deer Tick Virus among adult ticks was just 0.6 percent, reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
A type of Powassan virus, Deer Tick Virus is spread primarily by bites from so-called black-legged or deer ticks, which are found in the US Midwest and southeastern Canada
The virus can be transmitted within 15 minutes of a tick bite, which is much faster than the time from the bite to infection for many other tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease
Fortunately, the infection does not spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or physical contact.