Powassan Virus Spreads, Could Be More Deadly Than Lyme Disease

Jennifer Deutschmann

The Powassan virus is spreading, and doctors are concerned that it could be more deadly than Lyme disease. Although both illnesses are transmitted to humans by infected ticks, Powassan virus is far more severe.

As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is transmitted by blacklegged ticks infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Initial symptoms can be mild, and include fatigue, fever, headache and a distinct skin rash.

Although Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, early detection is vital. Without treatment, the infection can spread to the heart and nervous system.

According to the CDC, Lyme disease is generally limited to the upper Midwest and northeastern United States.

Powassan virus, also called POW, is transmitted to humans through ticks infected with a genus of the Flavivirus -- called RNA. Although the virus is rare, with only 60 cases reported since 2005, Powassan infection is specifically dangerous.

As discussed by the CDC, early symptoms include confusion, fever, headache, seizures, and vomiting. As there is no known cure, Powassan virus can cause long-term memory loss and neurological damage.

A majority of POW cases were reported in the Great Lakes region. However, doctors are concerned that the deadly virus is becoming more common in the Northeast.

Researchers with Connecticut's Center for Vector Biology & Zoonotic Diseases are monitoring the distribution of infected ticks.

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Armstrong said Powassan virus has a 10 percent fatality rate. Unfortunately, "many of those who survive suffer from long-term deficits, neurological damage."

Thankfully, there are way to reduce the chances of being bitten by a tick.

Ticks are generally found in heavily wooded areas. When walking through the woods, the CDC suggests staying in the center of cleared paths and avoiding bushes and piles of leaves. Insect repellents that contain DEET and Permethrin have been proven to repel ticks. However, users should be cautious and closely follow product instructions.

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Anyone who spends time in wooded areas should check their bodies, clothing, and gear when returning home.

As Powassan virus and Lyme disease can cause serious issues, suspected tick bites should be examined by a medical professional.

[Image via Shutterstock]