Massachusetts resident contracts rare tick-borne illness that can cause brain infection, death
A Massachusetts resident has contracted a rare but potentially deadly tick-borne illness, officials in the town of Maynard, where the patient lives, announced this week.
Maynard Town Administrator Greg Johnson and the Maynard Public Health Division announced Wednesday that the resident, whom they did not identify, was diagnosed with Powassan encephalitis disease, more commonly referred to as Powassan virus.
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Officials did not say when the resident was diagnosed or where he or she possibly contracted the virus.
Powassan virus — which “belongs to a group of viruses that can cause infection of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — is typically spread to humans after they’re bitten by an infected woodchuck or deer tick. The federal agency says those who live or work near brushy or woody areas are more likely to be exposed to potentially infected ticks.
Those infected with the virus typically experience fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss.
Patients often need support breathing and treatment for swelling around the brain, but there is no medicine to treat the virus, nor is there a vaccine to prevent it. About 10 percent of cases result in death, the CDC says.
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Powassan virus is rare, with an average of seven cases reported cases each year in the U.S. Most cases of the virus — which was first discovered in Powassan, Ontario in 1958 — have occurred in the northeast and Great Lakes areas of the U.S.
“Tick bites are happening all year long and the diseases and viruses that are associated with a tick bite can become difficult long-term medical issues. Residents must protect themselves from tick bites by checking themselves for ticks daily year-round,” Maynard Health Agent Kelly Pawluczonek said in a statement. “Residents should also use bug spray/bug repellent when outdoors and wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be easily seen.”