Powassan in Midcoast Maine

By Paula Jackson Jones | Jun 10, 2017

Last week, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) published the following press release:

They were notified of two cases of Powassan Encephalitis. Both cases occurred in adults who reside in the Midcoast area. In the two cases, the individuals became ill in late April and were hospitalized. The cases were confirmed through testing at CDC Fort Collins. Both individuals were discharged from the hospital and are recovering. Powassan, also known as deer tick virus, has been around since 1958 when it was discovered in Powassan, Ontario. Cases are rare in the U.S. and Maine has identified nine cases since 2000, including these two.

Powassan virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Ixodes (including both the woodchuck and deer) tick. Signs and symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurologic problems may occur. Symptoms can begin anytime from one week to one month after the tick bite.

“Powassan, although rare, can be serious so it is important to be aware of your surroundings and take steps to avoid being bitten by ticks. Ticks are found in wooded and bushy areas so use caution if you go into these areas,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett. “By following the No Ticks 4 ME approach you can help reduce exposure to ticks and thus lower the risk of disease.”

The No Ticks 4 ME approach includes:

— Wearing protective clothing. Light clothing makes ticks easier to see and long sleeves and pants reduces exposed skin for ticks to attach.

— Use an EPA repellent and always follow the labels. Clothing and gear can be treated with Permethrin for longer protection.

— Use caution in tick infested areas. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and stay in the middle of trails whenever possible.

— Perform daily tick checks. Check for ticks immediately after exiting high risk areas. Bathe or shower (preferably within 2 hours after being outdoors) to wash off and find ticks on your body. Conduct a full-body tick check. Also examine clothing, gear, and pets.”

No Ticks 4 ME aligns with our Prevention Is Key To Staying Tick-Free motto that appears in all my columns. As a member of the Maine CDC Vector-borne Work Group, I cannot stress enough that with the warm weather warranting more outdoor time, prevention practices must be followed to avoid having tick encounters and lower your risk of contracting a tick-borne disease.

Paula Jackson Jones is president of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education, a nonprofit 501c3 and Maine-partner of the National Lyme Disease Association and member of Maine CDC Vector-borne Workgroup. You can reach her at paula@mldse.org or visit their website mldse.org.

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