A Sagadahoc County resident has died after being exposed to the Powassan virus, a rare tick-borne disease.
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the adult developed neurological symptoms after exposure and died at the hospital. No other identifying information was found, which is common in these cases.
This is the first Powassan virus in the state this year. In 2010, the CDC By 2023, hundreds of more common tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis had been tracked.
Powassan is rare — only about 25 cases are reported in the entire U.S. each year — but it can be serious. Since 2015, Maine has identified 15 cases, including four last year. Two others have died in recent years. One was a Waldo County resident in April 2022, and the other was a longtime Portland teacher who contracted the virus in 2019 and died in January 2022. Her family disclosed the cause of death in her obituary.
Powassan virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick or woodchuck, the CDC said. Maine’s fall season is well underway and experts are predicting peak activity after last year’s record 2,617 cases of Lyme.
Griffin Dill, an integrated pest management specialist at the Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Laboratory, told the Press Herald last month that although this year’s tick season is off to a slow start, he doesn’t expect a fall.
“I don’t expect to have a down season overall, it’s just a bit of a slow season,” he said. “There are so many factors that account for this slow start, so it’s hard to say whether a slightly later start to spring will affect tick populations.”
The CDC urges people to take precautions when spending time outdoors; For example, removing leaf litter, wearing long, light-colored pants can make it easier to spot ticks. Conduct ticket checks if you are in ticket accommodation. An adult deer tick is about the size of a sesame seed, while nymphal deer ticks are about the size of a poppy seed, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most people with Powassan have no symptoms, but for some it can cause serious neurological problems, such as swelling of the brain or spinal cord. About 10% of people with severe symptoms die. There is no medicine to treat Powassan, but people with severe cases are often hospitalized and receive support for breathing, hydration and reducing brain swelling.
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