Early in May, reports of a disease worse than Lyme disease began to emerge: The Powassan virus (POW), which has been around for a long time, has begun to mutate, and its effects on human health are devastating. Tick borne-diseases are nasty, and because the tiny critters that bite can be easy to overlook, an accurate diagnosis may not be reached until long after symptoms develop – and worsen.
Lyme disease is known to cause debilitating symptoms, including severe headaches, neck stiffness, arthritis, nerve pain, brain inflammation and memory problems, an irregular heartbeat – and that telltale bull’s-eye rash. If caught early, antibiotics can at least lessen the symptoms, if not lead to a full recovery.
With POW, however, symptoms develop slowly – if at all – and sometimes take up to a month after a tick bite to become evident. So early treatment is moot, and there is no vaccine. The virus can travel directly to your central nervous system, causing meningitis or encephalitis. If you do develop symptoms, they can include fever, intense headache, vomiting, muscle weakness and loss of coordination, confusion, speech difficulties, and even seizures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about half of POW survivors experience permanent neurological symptoms; these may include persistent headaches, muscle wasting and memory problems. Approximately 10 percent of POW patients, however, will not survive.
The CDC states, “POW virus is maintained in a cycle between ticks and small-to-medium-sized rodents,” including squirrels and white-footed mice. Naturalists in Illinois sounded the alarm this season because they noticed an increase in the number of white-footed mice, known to be hosts for Ixodes scapularis (deer tick, black legged tick), which will bite humans and are vectors of Lyme disease.
So, follow the usual prevention practices for avoiding ticks: apply repellents to bare skin; treat clothing with permethrin; conduct a full-body search to find and remove ticks immediately, before they have a chance to bite.
No, it’s not convenient. Neither is a tick-borne disease.