Tick-borne Powassan virus cases rise in U.S.

Powassan virus is usually transmitted through the bite of an infected blackleg tick or deer tick. The rare tick-borne disease can sometimes lead to serious illness or death.

Ticks are annoying arachnids that can cause serious illnesses.

Lyme disease, which affects nearly half a million Americans a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the most common tick-borne illness, but there are at least 20 different tick-borne infections in the United States will

persons on social media recently started sharing this report by a climate and public health reporter for Grist magazine about a deadly tick-borne disease called Powassan virus spreading in the United States


Have Tick-Borne Powassan Virus Cases Increased in the US?



This is true.

Yes, cases of tick-borne Powassan virus have increased in the US, although they are still rare. Most cases of Powassan virus occur in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions of the United States


Powassan virus is usually transmitted through the bite of an infected blackleg tick or deer tick. It can take a week to a month for people to develop symptoms of the virus after a tick bite, according to the CDC.

Although cases of Powassan virus are rare, with only dozens reported annually, they have been increasing in recent years.

CDC data shows that reported cases from 2016 to 2020 were three times higher than in the previous five-year period. There were 44 cases of the virus from 2011 to 2015, compared to 134 cases from 2016 to 2020.

According to the data, cases fell to a low of 6 in 2015 and rose to a high of 39 in 2019.

The CDC hasn’t released full results for the 2021 and 2022 case counts, but a map from the public health agency shows 19 cases in 2021 and six cases so far in 2022.

Although Powassan virus is much less common than Lyme disease, it can cause serious illnesses that require hospitalization, including an infection of the brain called encephalitis, or an infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, which is called meningitis. Symptoms of serious illness include confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, and seizures.

According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 people with a severe case of Powassan virus die, and about half of those who survive have long-term health problems.

Those with less severe symptoms may have headaches, vomiting, and weakness. Many people infected with the virus have no symptoms.

“I think every time someone has a tick bite you have to think of Lyme, you have to think of Powassan. …You can’t separate them because I think you need to look at the cause, not the disease,” said Steven Bock, MD, president of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.

Most cases of Powassan virus occur in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions of the United States from late spring to mid-fall, when ticks are most active, according to the CDC.

But it’s possible the virus is popping up in other states as all tick-borne diseases have been on the rise across the country in recent years, Bock told VERIFY. That’s because the tick population has also increased overall, partly due to climate change.

States report deadly Powassan virus infections in 2022

In April 2022, a Maine adult died in hospital from Powassan virus after developing neurological symptoms, the Maine CDC said. The person was likely infected in the state.

In June 2022, the Connecticut Department of Health announced that a woman in her 90s had died of Powassan virus on May 17 after a tick was removed two weeks before her symptoms began. The woman was hospitalized with symptoms including fever, altered mental status, headache, chills, chest pain and nausea.

This was the second case of the virus in Connecticut in 2022. A man in his 50s fell ill in late March and was hospitalized with a central nervous system disorder. He was later released and recovering at home.

From 2017 to 2021, 12 people have contracted Powassan virus in Connecticut — including three cases in the past year. Two of those 12 cases were fatal. The woman’s recent death in the 1990s is Connecticut’s first death from the virus in 2022.

Maine has identified 14 cases of Powassan virus since 2010, health officials said.

Those who think they may have Powassan virus should speak to their doctor, who can test for it, Bock said.

There is no Powassan virus vaccine or treatment drug, but you can try to avoid contracting the virus by preventing tick bites. The CDC has tips on their website including avoiding areas where you might come into contact with ticks; treatment of clothing and equipment; checking your clothing and body for ticks; and showering soon after being outdoors.

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