Ticks have gotten one of the worst reputations among pests and bugs, and for a good reason; everyone knows the dangers of Lyme disease and knows that certain kinds of ticks are the cause of it. But there are other diseases carried by the same type of deer tick that carries Lyme disease that you may not have heard of. Powassan is one of those diseases.
Powassan is a rare viral tick-borne disease that can cause swelling in the brain, known as encephalitis, and in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, known as meningitis. While only 75 cases were reported over the last 10 years in the United States, experts fear that it could start to spread even faster now that the deer tick has started to transmit the disease.
How it Spreads
Powassan spreads from ticks to humans faster than Lyme disease, and although the infection is typically mild, it can occasionally be life-threatening to a number of people. In more severe cases, symptoms like memory loss and weakness can be permanent after initially contracting the disease. Whereas, Lyme disease takes 24 to 28 hours to spread from the tick to the human, Powassan can transmit within minutes. This makes it even more likely to contract the disease.
In the past, the kind of ticks that carried Powassan were the kind that rarely bit humans, such as woodchuck ticks. However, the deer tick has recently become a host for the virus and is much more likely to bite humans, increasing the changes of the disease spreading. Ticks that carry Powassan mainly live in wooded areas in the Northeast and near the Great Lakes, and are most active from late spring to mid-fall.
Most Powassan infections are fairly mild, with some cases not exhibiting any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they can show up anywhere from a week to a month after you were bitten. Symptoms include headache, fever, vomiting, weakness, confusion and memory loss, trouble walking and talking, and seizures. Seek professional medical help if you experience any of these symptoms and might have been exposed to ticks.
There are no specific drugs or procedures to treat Powassan, but there are several methods doctors use to manage symptoms. If a tick-borne disease is suspected, doctors might need tests of your blood and spinal fluid to check for the presence of antibodies that appear when your immune system is fighting the Powassan virus. Severe symptoms may be treated with breathing support, IV, or medicine to reduce swelling in the brain.
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