Rare Tick Virus Spreads: Dangerous Season Ahead

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Rare Tick Virus Spreads:  Dangerous Season Ahead

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Scientists and public health officials are warning people that ticks will be more prevalent and active this year due to a mild winter and spring.  Ticks are out in greater numbers and earlier in the season than usual, and cases of illnesses related to tick bites are already being reported.  To make things worse, the threat of a virus that has historically been rare is making a surge as well. 

The Powassan Virus

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The Powassan virus is transmitted to humans through tick bites, but less than 100 cases have been reported to the CDC over the past decade.  However, officials expect a surge in cases this year as more people will be exposed to ticks, and more ticks are carrying the bug.  This is a particularly nasty virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord which can lead to meningitis and encephalitis.  To make matters worse, the virus has a long incubation period, which means that victims may not develop symptoms for up to a month after being bitten.

While most people won’t develop any symptoms, or the ones they experience will be minor, it is still important to take basic precautions in order to reduce the chances of exposure.  It’s also important to be mindful of symptoms in order to get to a doctor as quickly as possible in order to be diagnosed and treated. 

Early intervention is key to reducing the chances of developing a life-threatening condition.  Remember, meningitis and encephalitis can creep up quickly and without warning, and the associated swelling and fluid buildup around the spine and brain can be fatal.  There is also the risk of developing long-term neurological problems that can be devastating over the course of time as well.

General Symptoms

Be on the lookout for a persistent headache, fever, confusion, weakness, malaise, difficulty speaking, a loss of basic coordination, mood swings, vomiting and seizures.  As you can see, many of these symptoms are also common with a number of other conditions, but they should not be ignored, especially if you or someone you know has been in the woods where ticks are present and active.  Keep in mind that more life-threatening symptoms can develop rapidly after these initial signs appear as well.

Unfortunately there is no vaccine available, and treatment options are limited to trying to control secondary symptoms.  Consequently, early intervention is key. 

How to Protect Yourself

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The best first line of defense is to make sure that exposed skin is covered when spending time in wooded areas.  Wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, tall socks and shoes.  Applying repellents that are proven to keep ticks at bay is an important second line of defense, particularly on the hands, neck and face.  Finally, and this is one step that many people forget to take, make sure to check hair and clothing for ticks before going home. 

Keep in mind that the Powassan virus is just one of many harmful pathogens that ticks can carry.  It’s also important to remember that it only takes one bite to transmit disease.  Don’t play Russian roulette with your health as you get out and enjoy nature this year, and remember the existential threat that ticks pose if you are using the wilderness to create a homestead or bug-out location.  Make sure that you incorporate prevention into your planning, and following the guidelines above can reduce or even eliminate the risk of exposure altogether.