Maine CDC confirms death from Powassan virus disease

The tickborne infection remains rare, death is the first identified case in Maine this year

AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) has confirmed a fatal case of Powassan virus disease in a Sagadahoc County resident. The adult developed neurologic symptoms and died while in the hospital after becoming infected, likely in Maine. This is the first case of the tickborne illness identified in the state this year.

Cases of Powassan are rare in the United States, with about 25 cases reported each year since 2015. Maine has identified 15 cases since 2015, including four in 2022. Two of the individuals who contracted Powassan in 2022 died of the illness, making this the third recorded Powassan death in Maine since 2015.

People acquire the Powassan virus through the bite of an infected deer tick or woodchuck tick. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing, but are most active in the spring, summer, and fall.

Many people infected with Powassan do not have symptoms; for those who develop symptoms, the time from tick bite to feeling unwell can range from one week to one month. Symptoms may include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, or memory loss. Some people may experience serious neurologic problems, like brain or spinal cord inflammation. About 10 percent of people with severe disease die. If you experience any of these symptoms after a tick bite, call a health care provider as soon as possible.

Ticks live in wooded, leafy, and shrubby areas and deer ticks have been found in all 16 counties of Maine. They are currently active, so anyone spending time outdoors should take steps to limit their exposure to ticks. Following these Tick Free ME tips after every outdoor activity can help you stay tick free:           

  • Know tick habitat and take precautions in areas where ticks may live.
  • Wear light-colored clothing that covers the arms and legs; tuck pants into socks.
  • Use an EPA-approved repellent like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on skin; use permethrin on clothing.
  • Check for ticks daily and after any outdoor activity. Check family members and pets too.
  • Ask a veterinarian about tick bite prevention for cats and dogs.
  • Remove your clothing when you get home and put it in the dryer before washing. Use high heat for 10-15 minutes to kill any crawling ticks that have not attached to you.

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