It seems that Lyme disease isn’t the only condition we need to be wary about if bitten by ticks. Now doctors are warning residents living in areas known to be infested with Deer ticks about a new virus that is potentially even more deadly than the Lyme disease virus. It is known as the Powassan virus and it is quickly moving through Northeastern states as well as in the Great Lakes area.
Symptoms of Powassan Virus
The Powassan virus, also called POW virus for short produces following symptoms:
- Depending on individual immunity levels, some people, despite being bitten by ticks carrying the POW virus, might remain asymptomatic for long periods of time.
- The incubation period of POW is generally a week to up to a month
- Fever, headache, flu-like symptoms, encephalitis and meningitis are some commonly reported symptoms of the Powassan virus caused by tick bites.
- Some neurological symptoms of Powassan virus are permanent. These include muscular fatigue and weakness, headaches, memory issues etc.
- 10% of encephalitis symptoms are known to be deadly.
Lyme disease as well as the POW virus both belong to the same family of viruses called The West Nile virus. The symptoms are more or less similar but the rarer POW virus progresses more rapidly. Patients also report severe and longer lasting symptoms. The confusion, brain fog, dizziness, memory issues tend to come on rather suddenly. In Eastern Canada, where it was first detected and reported, there are at least 16 known cases of the disease. In US, as of today, at least 35 POW cases have been reported. Currently, until early 2015, there is marked rise in the number of diagnoses of this virus. Hence, doctors are cautioning people to take extra precautions.
Treatment for Powassan tick virus
There are no known vaccines that can help prevent POW caused by tick bites. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a tick, seek medical help immediately.If you are experiencing confusion, dizziness and headaches etc, there are chances you have a brain swelling. Treatment generally means hospitalization where you might be put on IV fluids or medicines to reduce the swelling.
Preventing tick bite virus infections
The POW tick bite virus may be extremely rare but its effects are long lasting and often dangerous. So, it is best to prevent tick bites using the right measures. These include:
- Avoiding bushy areas and grassy trails.
- If needed, wearing long sleeved shirts and full pants on hikes. Tucking the pants inside shoes can prevent hiding places for ticks. Wearing a wide brimmed hat can prevent ticks from getting on your hair. It is also a good idea to cover the neck using a cravat or scarf.
- Spraying the entire person, including clothes and shoes with DEET based insect repellents can repel the critters.
- Once you are back from the walk, it is important to inspect your body and your kids and pets for ticks. If you find one, use the right method for removing it. This is best done using tweezers or a tissue paper. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap. If you have a tick bite wound, wash that as well. Take a shower if possible.
- Washing all clothing you have worn on the hike. Preferably use hottest washer and dryer settings to kill ticks and larvae.
- Checking your pets for ticks from time to time, especially if they spend lot of time outside.
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