LAST UPDATED: May 19th, 2015
Hunters are no strangers to the risks associated with ticks. They are a regular uninvited guest often found clinging to our clothes and skin as we move through the heavy hardwoods in pursuit of our favorite game. Yes they carry disease, but most of us are not about to stop our love for the outdoors because of a pest the same size as a pencil eraser.
However, over the last several days media outlets have been abuzz with recent CDC findings and a chilling reason for why you should think twice before entering your favorite woodlot. The news originates from the Branford and Bridgeport areas of Connecticut. Health officials there have found a small percentage of ticks capable of spreading the Powassan virus, a sometimes deadly neurological disease.
Related to the West Nile virus and transmitted by ticks, this disease attacks the central nervous system. However, its symptoms are often more severe, causing fever, headache, even seizures. The scary part about this disease is that it can cause encephalitis, meningitis, or a brain infection that can lead to death in roughly 10% of those infected. Scarier yet, it is untreatable. Once diagnosed, a doctor can only give you support and hope you pull through.
The virus is extremely rare however; over the past 10 years Powassan has been diagnosed less than 50 times. Comparatively, the CDC indicates about 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease are reported each year.
The greatest difference between the two tick borne illnesses is in the amount of time it takes a person to actually contract each disease. The transmission time of Lyme is nearly 24 hours. Which means one has likely more than enough time to locate an imbedded tick in under that timeframe and remove it. No harm done. The transmission for Powassan is under an hour, making tick checks a necessity among all venturing outdoors.
The greatest tool for fighting this and other tick borne illnesses is prevention. Knowing such a short transmission time of the Powassan virus should have you performing thorough and very regular tick checks any time during a visit to the outdoors. Like Lyme, the tick responsible for the transmission of Powassan is the deer tick – perhaps the most infamous of all the tick species.
Although male deer ticks are only about the size of a large poppy seed, female deer ticks are much larger and often misidentified. It is important to know what tick species are present in your area and to be able to identify them for you and your family’s safety.
Learn to properly identify the tick responsible for the Powassan Virus – the deer tick.
While venturing outdoors, wear clothing treated in permethrin or sprayed down with DEET at concentrations between 30-50%. Lower concentrations of DEET (often used for pregnant women and young children) do work, but reapplication is needed more often. Wear long sleeves, pants tucked into shoes or boots, and light colored clothing whenever possible. Ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide given off by their prey. Staying out of heavily used deer bedding areas and off animal trails are often your best bets for avoiding larger populations.
While it’s a fact that Powassan is a very dangerous virus, with proper and regularly practiced precautions you can further limit your chances of contracting this very rare disease.