First Fatal Case of Rare Tick-Borne Disease in Maine in 2024


In 2024, Maine reported its first fatal case of Powassan virus. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention that a York County resident died from the disease, marking the first death from the virus since May of last year.

Current Cases in

Apart from the fatal case in York County, two other cases have been reported by the Maine CDC this year. One occurred in Kennebec County and another Lincoln County. Thankfully, both individuals recovered.

About Powassan Virus

The rare but deadly Powassan virus spreads to humans via infected deer or woodchuck ticks’ bites. These ticks get active whenever temperatures rise above freezing, with increased activity between spring and fall. In just 15 minutes after a bite, a tick can transmit the virus to a person.

Symptoms and Risks

Many individuals with Powassan virus show no symptoms. But those who do, could experience symptoms within a week to a month after being bitten by an infected tick. This includes fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion seizures and memory loss.

In severe cases which account for about 10% of all infections, victims may experience lethal neurological complications including inflammation of brain or spinal cord. People with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to these severe symptoms.

Rising Cases

Powassan cases are uncommon nationwide between 2018 and 2023, approximately 20-50 cases were reported annually. However, an unanticipated increase has been observed in Maine where seven record cases cropped up in 2023. Since 2014, Maine has reported its tally at twenty-five infections including four deaths caused due to Powassan virus.

Maine CDC’s Actions

To combat the increasing threat, Maine CDC is pushing for precautions against tick bites. They’re recommending a number of preventive measures to the public,

  • Understand Tick Habitats, avoid woods, leaves or shrubby areas when one can or be cautious when entering these territories.
  • Wear Protective Attire, Light colored unaired clothing covering arms and legs can assist in spotting ticks and also cuffing pants into socks can prevent skin exposure.
  • Use of Insect Repellents, Use EPA approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin areas. Clothing can be protected by using permethrin.
  • Daily Tick Checks, Regular checks for ticks should be done on self, family members and pets, any discovered tick should be removed immediately.
  • Clean Laundry Practices, Clothes worn outside must be removed and placed in dryer on high heat for 10-15 minutes to eradicate any hidden ticks.

The Effect of Weather on Tick Populations

Maine CDC also points out that wetter and warmer winters could result in rising populations of disease carrying ticks this spring and summer thereby increasing risk of Powassan virus along with other tick associated diseases. Lyme Disease, Statewide in 2023, nearly 3,000 preliminary Lyme disease cases were reported which was never seen before record high for Maine. Powassan Virus Cases, since 2014 ,25 Powassan virus infections have been documented by Maine including four fatalities.

Impact and Awareness Within Community 

The escalating rates of Tick related diseases, principally Powassan virus, compelled public health officials to press on the significance of awareness and prevention. Citizens are being urged to stay informed about risks and take necessary steps to shield themselves and their families.

Conclusion

The latest fatality from Powassan virus in York County serves as a reminder of the grave risk posed by tick originated diseases. Although these incidences are still infrequent, the heightened instances underline the urgency for alertness and proactive undertakings to avoid tick bites. By following Maine CDC’s advice, residents can lower their exposure threat and contribute towards restricting proliferation of this fatal virus.


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