In recent decades, the summer months have become a time to take precautions against contracting Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that causes symptoms ranging from a flu-like illness to chronic pain and neurological impairments. However, Lyme is just one of many diseases humans can contract from a tick bite — and it’s not the worst one. Powassan disease is also spread by ticks. It’s on the rise, and it can be deadly.
The Powassan virus can cause fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, seizures, and swelling of the brain, and at least 10 percent of the people who contract this fast-moving tick-borne pathogen die. Half will be left with permanent neurological problems. While a tick infected with Lyme disease must be attached for more than 24 hours in order to transit the disease, a tick needs only 15 minutes to infect a person with Powassan.
How big of a threat is Powassan? The disease is still rare. While 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) each year, the CDC has recorded only 75 cases of POW in the past 10 years. However, that could change quickly.
In Wisconsin, which has one of the highest number of cases in the U.S., Powhassan has been found in every county. There was one reported case of the illness in Wisconsin in 2015. Numbers from the Wisconsin Health Department show there were four cases in 2016. On the East Coast, researchers discovered larger than expected numbers of ticks infected with Powassan in Maine during a recent statewide survey.
“We were kind of surprised that we found as much as we did,” said Chuck Lubelczyk, a vector ecologist at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s “tick lab,” which tested 206 groups of ticks from locations across the state.
The disease is named after Powassan, Ontario, where it was first identified in 1958. However, it has been found throughout the northeast and great lakes region, and it appears