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Maine health officials confirm first Powassan virus death, case this year

Health officials in Maine have reported the first identified Powassan virus case and death this year. 

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the fatal case in a Sagadahoc County resident. 

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that the deceased adult had developed neurologic symptoms. 

They died in the hospital after becoming infected. 

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This undated photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a blacklegged tick, which is also known as a deer tick. Ticks will be more active than usual early in spring 2023, and that means Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections could spread earlier and in greater numbers than in a typical year. Ticks can transmit multiple diseases that sicken humans, and deer ticks, which spread Lyme, are a day-to-day fact of life in the warm months in New England and the Midwest. (CDC via AP, File)

Cases of Powassan are rare in the U.S., and around 25 cases have been reported each year since 2015. 

In that same time frame, Maine has identified 15 cases, including four last year. 

Two people who contracted the illness died, making this the third recorded Powassan death in the state since 2015. 

Notably, people contract the virus through the bite of an infected deer tick or woodchuck tick. 

While ticks can be active whenever the temperature is above freezing, they are most active in the spring, summer and fall seasons.

Many of those who are infected do not exhibit symptoms. 

Lurking deer tick and foot in hiking boot on green grass.

Cases of Powassan are rare in the United States, with about 25 cases reported each year since 2015. (iStock)

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For those who do develop symptoms, the time from the bite to feeling unwell can range from a period of a week to up to a month. 

Symptoms may include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures or memory loss, and some people may experience serious neurologic problems, like brain or spinal cord inflammation. 

About 10% of those with severe disease die. 

Tick sign in woods

A sign warns of ticks in the woods. (iStock)

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,” the department advised. 

Following these Tick Free ME tips after every outdoor activity can help you stay tick-free.          

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Make sure to take precautions in areas where ticks may live, including wearing light-colored clothing that covers the arms and legs, tucking pants into socks, using an EPA-approved repellent and checking for ticks daily and after any outdoor activity. 

Officials also recommend people remove their clothing when they return home and put them in the dryer before washing, using high heat for 10-15 minutes to kill any crawling ticks.

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