Authored by Dr. Swati Rajagopal, Consultant – Infectious Disease & Travel Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore
As the world started normalizing and people overcame the havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic the fear of another pandemic is beginning to spread slowly. Known as the Powassan virus, the deadly infection is slowly spreading across America and has recently claimed the life of a person in the United States. Although rare, Powassan is an untreatable disease and medical experts are yet to find a cure for it. Learning from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Maine Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other doctors and health officials are now alerting the masses about this non-treatable virus and are educating them about its symptoms and preventive measures.
What is the Powassan virus and how can you contract it?
According to the CDC, the Powassan virus spreads to people by the bite of an infected tick. These ticks get infected by sucking the virus from the blood of groundhogs, squirrels, mice, or other rodents and spread the Powassan virus to people and other animals by feeding on them.
Currently, three types of ticks that can spread the Powassan virus to humans have been identified in the eastern half of the United States. These include –
- Ixodes cookei (groundhog tick)
- Ixodes marxi (squirrel tick), and
- Ixodes scapularis (blacklegged or deer tick)
Can ticks get infected by biting humans and is Powassan Virus a communicable disease?
As per recent research, it has been found that the Powassan virus cannot be transmitted from person to person. Furthermore, humans are also considered as the dead-end host for the Powassan virus as people do not develop high enough virus levels in their blood and thus, they cannot infect biting ticks.
The transmission of the Powassan virus from person to person can only occur in rare instances of blood transfusion or through the bite of an infected tick. Therefore, it is recommended that people who have been diagnosed with the Powassan virus must avoid donating blood or bone marrow for at least 120 days after contracting the infection as their blood can infect another person and may lead to the development of a viral chain reaction.
What are the symptoms of the Powassan virus?
While many people infected with the Powassan virus do not show any symptoms, however, the ones with symptoms the time duration from tick bite to feeling sick usually ranges from 1 week to 1 month. The signs and symptoms of the Powassan include –
- Severe Brain and Spine diseases like Encephalitis and Meningitis
- Loss of Coordination
- Difficulty in speaking
To date, it has been found that approximately 1 out of 10 people with severe disease die and roughly half of the people who survive severe Brain and Spine disease have long-term health problems such as recurring headaches, loss of muscle mass and strength, and memory problems.
How can you prevent yourself from the Powassan virus?
Currently, there are no vaccines or medications to stop or restrict the spread of the Powassan virus. However, you can prevent yourself from getting sick with the Powassan virus by following the below-mentioned tips –
- Avoiding the areas such as grassy, brushy, or wooded places where ticks can be easily found
- Check your clothes for ticks and remove them by washing them with hot water or by applying a dryer
- Examine your pets for ticks
- Shower as soon as you are indoors
- Conduct a full body check for ticks
In case you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or have a tick bite then you must consult your nearest healthcare provider.