A tick-borne virus called Powassan virus has claimed its first victim in the United States of America. Health officials are alerting people about the deadly tick-borne illness after the Maine Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a 58-year-old died from the rare ailment. Often called a ticking time bomb, this virus may become more common with the changing climate, leading to a significant public health challenge in the future.
According to CDC, the man exhibited severe neurological symptoms after contracting the Powassan virus. Notably, since 2015, Maine has recorded a total of 15 confirmed cases of the infection. The situation became more dreadful in 2022 when four cases were reported, resulting in the loss of two lives.
What is the Powassan virus?
The early signs of Powassan virus infection include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. (Source: Freepik)
Dr Satish Koul, director of Internal Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon told that the Powassan virus is generally transmitted to humans through bites infected deer ticks, groundhog ticks, or squirrel ticks, commonly found in the Great Lakes region of North America between late spring and mid-autumn. It is named after the town of Powassan, Ontario, where it was first identified.
“A considerable number of people infected with the virus exhibit no symptoms. For individuals with symptoms, the time from tick bite to feeling ill ranges from one week to one month. The early signs of Powassan virus infection include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness,” he said.
Adding to this, Dr Koul mentioned that in severe cases, individuals may experience symptoms like confusion, difficulty speaking, loss of coordination, and seizures. “This can cause encephalitis (brain infection) or meningitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). Moreover, it can have a lasting impact on an individual’s well-being,” he continued.
Currently, there are “no medications” that can prevent or treat Powassan virus infection. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. However, according to the expert, symptoms can be relieved resting, consuming fluids, and using over-the-counter pain medications. “People with severe disease need to be hospitalised for respiratory support, hydration and brain swelling reduction,” he said.
As for prevention, it is advisable to wear full clothing, protective gear and be careful while travelling through tick-infested areas, especially during hikes or trails in forested regions.
Concluding, Dr Koul said, “If you suspect you have the virus, consult your doctor. The diagnosis of infection is based on the patient’s signs, symptoms, and hory of residing or travelling in a region where the virus is known to be prevalent. In addition, laboratory testing of blood or spinal fluid is used to determine the condition.”
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