(VitalNews.org) – The Maryland Department of Health announced the state’s first death from Powassan, a tick-borne disease, on Friday October 6. Authorities confirmed that the deceased contract the virus in Canada before returning to Maryland. The infected tick bite was first confirmed by officials on September 22. Maryland health officials have urged the public to take extra care when in areas infested by ticks, or to avoid those areas entirely if possible.
Currently, there are no medical treatments for Powassan, nor are there any preventative vaccines, hence the need to take precautions in order to avoid it if possible. Such precautions can include staying away from wooded areas, or areas with high grass where the ticks may thrive. People are also advised to wear long sleeves and to tuck their pants into their socks in order to expose less skin to potential bites.
Although sometimes it results in no symptoms for the infected person at all, for others it causes vomiting, headaches, and even speech and memory problems. The rare disease proves fatal in around 10% of its victims, who can suffer with encephalitis or meningitis as a result of the infection. Encephalitis is the medical term for swelling of the brain, whereas meningitis involves the membranes surrounding the spinal cord or brain swelling up dangerously. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), transmission from person to person is incredibly rare, and only known to happen through cases of infected blood transfusion. As such, Maryland officials are not concerned about the disease spreading throughout the population.
Although rare, the reports of the virus have increased in recent years. In 2011, only 12 cases were recorded in the US. As of the beginning of October 2023, 28 cases have been reported. The virus is most prevalent in the Great Lakes regions and the northeast, usually from late in the Spring until the middle of Fall, as this is when the ticks are at their most numerous and active.
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