Health & Wellness

Potentially Record Breaking Tick Season Made Worse by Powassan

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The Centers for Disease Control is expecting this summer to be the worse tick season on record made even more troubling by Powassan, a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by ticks. 

Summary article: https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_165462.html

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While there are many benefits to a mild winter including lower heating bills and fewer snow days, one down side is the tick population. Our mild winter allowed more ticks to survive – which means more ticks will be looking for food this spring, summer and fall.  Unfortunately, their meals consist of blood – yours, your children’s, your pets’…they aren’t very picky about the source. And in exchange for feeding them, they sometimes leave you with bacteria that cause Lyme disease. If you are an unfortunate recipient, effective antibiotic treatment is available.

Not so with Powassan, a troubling new viral tick-borne disease.  There are no medications (antibiotics don’t work on viruses) to treat it or vaccine to prevent infection. More troubling is that Powassan virus can attack the nervous system, causing encephalitis (brain inflammation) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the spinal cord). Although it’s not very common, with a record breaking tick season unfolding, the risk of Powassan transmission is increased.  

According to the CDC, it takes anywhere from about 7 – 30 days after being bitten by a tick carrying the Powassan virus for symptoms to begin, if they occur at all.

Because Powassan virus can infect the central nervous system, symptoms to look for include:

  • fever
  •  headache
  •  vomiting
  •  weakness
  •  confusion
  •  loss of coordination
  •  trouble speaking
  •  seizures

About half of those who survive a Powassan infection have permanent health issues such as recurrent headaches, muscle wasting and memory problems. 

Approximately 10% of people who develop viral encephalitis caused by Powassan virus, die.

Since there is no treatment and a possibility of fatality, the best way to protect you and your family from this or any tick-borne disease is to follow these CDC recommendations:

1.       Avoid contact with ticks
 
2.       Walk in the center of trails or paths through woods or
           tall grasses

3.      Use repellent

On exposed skin use repellent with 20% or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for
protection that lasts several hours.

On clothing (pants, boots, socks) and gear (tents) use repellant with 0.5% permethrin.

4.  Bathe or take a shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

5.  Check your whole body for ticks and use a mirror to check your back, neck, under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in your hair or on your head.

6.  Check pets, coats, backpacks, etc. as ticks can come into the house on them and attach to a person later.

7.  Put clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing.

If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.  If the clothes need to be washed, wash them in HOT water.  Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively.

For clothes that cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry them for on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry.

Remember, it takes about 24 hours before a tick begins feeding on your blood, so don’t panic if you find one crawling on your skin.  Use tweezers to take it off.  Submerge the live tick in alcohol until it’s dead. Then, either flush it down the toilet or put it in a bag, seal it, tape it and put it in the garbage.
              
If you find a tick after it has attached, remove it using the following CDC recommended method:

  1. Using a fine-tipped tweezers - grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. If the tick is alive submerge it in alcohol to kill it and then placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
  4. After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

 DO NOT use nail polish, nail polish remover, petroleum jelly, gasoline, or the heat from a match to get the tick to detach from the skin. You want to remove it as quickly as possible–not wait for it to “let go.” (https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/).

For more information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Powassan
https://www.cdc.gov/powassan/

Ticks
(https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/).

Tick removal
https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html

Environmental Protection Agency
Find the insect repellant that is right for you
https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-insect-repellent-right-you

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