First Fatal Case of Powassan Virus in 2024 Reported in York County, Maine

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The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the first fatal case of Powassan virus, a tick-borne illness, in Maine for the year. This incident occurred in York County.

Notably, the most recent death from this tick-borne virus in Maine happened in May 2023 when Robert Weymouth from Topsham passed away due to complications from the same illness.

The Maine CDC disclosed that the case in York County was one of three Powassan virus infections reported among Maine residents in 2024. The other two cases were reported in Kennebec and Lincoln counties.

According to the Maine CDC, Powassan cases are uncommon in the United States, with an average of 20-50 cases reported annually nationwide between 2018 and 2023.

In 2023, Maine saw a record high of seven Powassan cases and has documented a total of 25 virus infections since 2014, including four fatalities within the past decade.

Powassan virus is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected deer or woodchuck ticks. While deer ticks can be active whenever the temperature is above freezing, they are most active during the spring, summer, and fall seasons.

The virus can be transmitted from ticks to humans in as little as 15 minutes following a bite. Some individuals infected with Powassan may not show symptoms. For those who do, symptoms can appear within a month of being bitten and may include fever, headaches, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, or memory loss.

In severe cases, individuals may experience neurological problems such as inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. Approximately 10% of people with severe illnesses caused by the virus may not survive, with those having weakened immune systems being at higher risk of developing severe symptoms.

If you display any of these symptoms after being bitten by a tick, it is important to contact a healthcare provider promptly.

To prevent Powassan virus and other tick-borne illnesses, the Maine CDC recommends the following measures:

  • Be aware of tick habitats and take precautions in areas where ticks are prevalent.
  • Wear light-colored clothing that covers your arms and legs, and tuck pants into socks.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved repellents like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on your skin, and apply permethrin to clothing.
  • Check for ticks on a daily basis and after any outdoor activities. Remember to check your family members and pets as well.
  • Consult a veterinarian regarding tick bite prevention for cats and dogs.
  • When you return home, remove your clothing and put it in the dryer before washing it. Use high heat for 10-15 minutes to eliminate any crawling ticks that may not have latched onto you.

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