How annoying and dangerous can these ticks get? First they bite; then, they might transport Lyme disease. Now there is concern that a far more serious (and possibly deadly) virus may be emerging.
Why This Year?
Many locations in 2016 in the eastern U.S. recorded the warmest winter ever. Because of this factor, ticks and other insects were able to survive and thrive throughout the season. Not only is there a surplus of ticks, they are feeding more on humans than they have in the past.
Currently, there is a short supply of deer mice (because there’s a short supply of acorns, their main staple.) So, where normally the deer ticks feed on mice, they are looking to other sources for a blood meal (us). But if it’s any consolation, not all ticks carry Lyme or the Powassan virus. And not all states are infested with ticks.
The Powassan Virus
The Powassan virus is not a “new” virus, it’s just that it is newly emerging after being rare and dormant for about 50 years. It was first detected in 1958 in Powassan, Ontario, Canada. There were less than 100 cases reported over the last decade, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the numbers are currently increasing.
While some people who have been bitten by a tick with the virus experience no symptoms, there are others who experience the polar opposite. Those stricken severely with the Powassan virus are in for dire results. Swelling of the brain ensues and about 50% of patients will suffer permanent neurological damage such as blurred vision, facial tics, and loss of memory. And, 10% will die.
There is, unfortunately, no vaccine against contracting the Powassan virus at this time. Treatment requires hospitalization, and providing comfort and hydration. Beyond that, all the patient can do is wait for the virus to work its way out of the system.
Although symptoms may not appear for up to a month after getting bitten by the tick, the actual contraction of the virus can take as short as 15 minutes. (With Lyme disease, the bacteria generally takes about 24 hours before it passes from a tick to a human.)
When the reaction to the virus is severe, some of the symptoms include:
- Speech difficulties
Most of the cases reported have been from the northeast United States and the northern Midwest.
Currently, the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease is about 20%. (That’s a one in five chance of contracting Lyme if you’re bit.) A study out of Columbia University reports that in New York State about 2% of the ticks are carrying the Powassan virus. The total number of people affected is unknown because many can be asymptomatic.
A 2013 study, however, showed that signs of the virus having been increasing steadily in New England deer. This means that the number of ticks that bite the deer who carry Powassan is also increasing. This is one of the concerns for why the virus’ range may spread.
How to Protect Yourself
- Ticks love woody and grassy areas. When on a trail, walk in the center to avoid contact with ticks.
- Wear insect repellant
- Wear long pants and long sleeves
- Check clothing before you go back indoors. Also check your scalp and neck
- Check your body when you’re in the shower
- Check your pets’ fur regularly too
If you find a tick, remove it carefully. Go online and read exactly how to do it. If you or your pet has been bit, you can put the tick (dead or alive) in a bag and have it tested for Lyme or Powassan. You can also take a photo and send it to TickEncounter Resource Center where a scientist may be able to detect the type of tick and if it may be infected.
If you’ve been bit and develop a fever, rash, or flu-like symptoms, go see a health practitioner right away. The sooner a proper diagnosis, the better the outcome when treatment is delivered right away.
These reports needn’t keep you inside or away from playing outdoors. Just be aware of your surroundings and follow the precautions—and just say no to ticks.