State warns of tick-borne illness as family mourns artist
South Thomaston — Many in the area are remembering well-known watercolor artist Marilyn "Lyn" Ruth Snow, having visited her gallery on Rockland's Main Street or met her during her career in the Midcoast.
Snow, 73, died Dec. 18, at Maine Medical Center in Portland. It has been widely reported that she died from a rare tick-borne illness caused by the Powassan virus.
Snow lived with her husband, Jack, at a farmhouse in South Thomaston, according to her obituary. She retired in the fall, closing her gallery on Main Street. She was known for her floral watercolors.
This is the first case of Powassan virus in Maine since 2004, and it will prompt more research and surveillance efforts in the coming year, according to Charles Lubelczyk, a biologist with the Maine Medical Center Research Institute's Vector-borne Disease Laboratory in Scarborough.
Powassan can be spread by groundhog or woodchuck ticks and deer ticks. About 10 percent of the cases result in death, and some patients who recover have continuing neurological problems, according to information from the Vermont Department of Health.
Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, muscle weakness, drowsiness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech and memory problems. It attacks the central nervous system and in some cases leads to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord causing encephalitis or meningitis.
Unlike the more common Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics, little can be done to treat Powassan virus. Lubelczyk said lab tests show the virus can pass from the tick to a person in less than an hour, whereas Lyme disease is believed to have a 36-hour to 48-hour window in which the tick can be removed.
The problem, he said, is people often do not know they have been bitten by a tick, especially if they spend hours outdoors or if a pet brings the tick into their home. In some cases, a tick brought into a home on a pet can be attached to a person overnight without being noticed.
The sooner the tick is removed, the better.
Lubelczyk said five cases were reported in Maine from 1999 to 2004. He said the ticks that carry illnesses are most active and prevalent along the Midcoast from about Winterport down to York County.
This new case raises questions about whether this is an increased risk in Maine. He said more cases have been seen recently in other Northeast states, and seeing one new case in 10 years leaves a "big question mark."
With winter snow on the ground and temperatures below 40 degrees, he said the tick season is over. In the coming year, the Centers for Disease Control and his organization will work together to do more research including surveys where ticks are collected and tested. In addition, blood samples will be taken from wildlife.
He said the virus is widespread among deer and other wildlife.
Family and friends in the Midcoast are remembering Snow with visiting hours Friday, Dec. 27, at Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home and a service Saturday, Dec. 28, at 3 p.m. at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 11 White St., Rockland.
How to prevent Powassan virus disease (from Vermont Department of Health)
The best way to prevent POW virus disease is to prevent tick bites. While outdoors:
• Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to minimize skin exposure to ticks.
• Tuck your pants into your socks to form a barrier to tick attachment.
• Wear light-colored clothing to help see ticks on your clothing.
• Check for ticks, looking particularly for what may look like nothing more than a new freckle or speck of dirt, and remove ticks promptly.
• Use an effective tick repellent on your skin or on your clothing. There are several repellents that are effective against ticks. For an up-to-date list of EPA registered products, see http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/. Repellents should not be used on infants under 2 months of age. Read the label carefully and use according to the recommendations.
• Use permethrin on clothing you wear outside. Permethrin is an insect repellent that is very effective in preventing tick bites. After you come inside,
• Check your or your child’s body for ticks, and remove them promptly. Pay special attention to the head, armpits, and groin area.
• Examine clothing and gear for ticks. Placing your clothes in a hot dryer for 60 minutes will kill any ticks that may be clinging to the fabric.
• Check your pets for ticks as well. Consult your veterinarian for advice on choosing effective tick repellents for your pets. A tick needs to be attached to a person for a certain length of time before it can cause disease. This time interval is not known for POW virus, but it may be shorter than the attachment time needed for Lyme disease (24-48 hours) or anaplasmosis (12-24 hours).
How do you remove ticks?
Try to remove the tick as soon as you discover it because prompt removal can prevent transmission of tick-borne diseases.
To safely remove ticks:
1. Use fine-tipped tweezers and firmly grasp the tick close to the skin. Avoid touching the tick with your bare hands
2. With a steady motion, pull straight up until all parts of the tick are removed. Do not twist or jerk the tick. Do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Once the mouthparts are removed from the rest of the tick, it can no longer transmit disease- causing bacteria.
DO NOT use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products to remove a tick. These methods are ineffective.
Thoroughly wash your hands and the bite area After removing the tick, wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Clean the tick bite with soap and water or use an antiseptic such as iodine scrub or rubbing alcohol.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.
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