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Connecticut woman in her 90s dies after testing positive for rare tick-borne Powassan virus


Connecticut woman in her 90s dies after testing positive for rare tick-borne Powassan virus one month after being bitten

  • Woman was in her 90s and in New London county which borders Rhode Island
  • Health chiefs said she was admitted to hospital with a fever, headache, chest pain and ‘altered mental state’ two weeks after being bitten by a tick
  • She died 14 days later after becoming ‘unresponsive’, they said
  • It is the second death from the virus this year, following one in Maine in April
  • Powassan virus is rare but kills one in 10 people who catch the virus, while half are left with life-long disabilities such as memory problems
  • There are no vaccines or treatments available for people who get infected 

A Connecticut woman has died from the rare tick-borne Powassan virus just a month after being bitten by the parasite. 

The individual — who has not been named — was in her 90s and lived in New London county, which borders Rhode Island.

Health officials said she was admitted to hospital with a fever, headache, chest pain and ‘altered mental state’ two weeks after being bitten by a tick in early May. The patient died 14 days later after becoming ‘unresponsive’.

It is the second death from the tick-borne disease in America this year, after a man from Maine died from the virus in April. 

Powassan virus is rare — with about 28 people test positive for it every year — but about one in ten people who are infected die, and half are left with life-long disabilities.

There are no vaccines or medicines against the disease, with treatment instead focusing on easing symptoms, including trouble breathing and swelling of the brain.

The woman was in her 90s and in New London county, which borders Rhode Island. Doctors said she died two weeks after being admitted to hospital when she became 'unresponsive'. She has tested positive for the Powassan virus which is transmitted to humans by Deer or black-legged ticks (pictured above)

The woman was in her 90s and in New London county, which borders Rhode Island. Doctors said she died two weeks after being admitted to hospital when she became ‘unresponsive’. She has tested positive for the Powassan virus which is transmitted to humans by Deer or black-legged ticks (pictured above) 

Pictured above are all the states that have detected Powassan virus since 2011 and the number of cases they have recorded in a decade (number on each state)

Pictured above are all the states that have detected Powassan virus since 2011 and the number of cases they have recorded in a decade (number on each state)

This shows the number of cases of Powassan virus recorded across the United States. There was a record 39 picked up in 2019

This shows the number of cases of Powassan virus recorded across the United States. There was a record 39 picked up in 2019

Connecticut’s health commissioner Dr Manisha Juthani said the case was a reminder to ‘take action’ in order to avoid ticks from ‘now through to late fall’.

She called on residents to keep ticks at bay by using insect repellant and avoiding areas of long grass where they often lurk.

What is Powassan virus? How is it treated? 

Powassan virus is a very rare but often serious disease spread from ticks that became infected after biting rodents.

About 28 people catch the disease in the U.S. every year, but the CDC says there are likely others which are un-diagnosed because they may not trigger symptoms.

Of these about one in ten die from the condition and half are left with long-term disabilities such as memory loss and reduced strength in muscles.

People who catch the virus begin to suffer symptoms a week so a month later.

Early symptoms include a fever, headache, vomiting and muscle weakness.

But when the virus spreads to the brain patients can also start to suffer confusion, loss of co-ordination and seizures.

There is no vaccine or treatment against the disease.

Doctors instead focus on easing the side-effects of infection including trouble breathing and swelling in the brain.

Source: CDC 

‘It’s also important to check carefully for ticks after being outside, which can reduce the chance of you and your family members being infected with this dangerous virus,’ she added.

Connecticut officials today confirmed Powassan virus was the patient’s cause of death. It was not clear whether she had any underlying health conditions. 

In April, an unnamed man from Maine was hospitalized with ‘neurological symptoms’ due to the virus and later died. 

It was also Connecticut’s second case in the last six months, after a man in his 50s from Windham County, north of New London, was diagnosed in late March.

He was hospitalized with the disease after being bitten by a tick, but was later discharged to recover at home.

Powassan virus is spread to humans from deer or black-legged ticks — identified by their namesake-colored legs — which pick up the disease from rodents such as groundhogs and squirrels.

Infected people begin to suffer symptoms a week to a month after they were bitten.

Early warning signs include a fever, headache, vomiting and muscle weakness.

But when the virus spreads to the brain and central nervous system they can also suffer confusion, loss of co-ordination and seizures.

Humans who are infected with the virus cannot pass it on to others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

It also notes that a number of cases likely go undiagnosed every year because they do not trigger symptoms.

The deer or black-legged tick — which carries this virus — is also responsible for giving humans Lyme disease.

But this illness differs from Powassan in that its patients normally suffer a characteristic ‘bulls-eye’ rash around the area they were bitten. It is also rarely fatal, although it can lead to long-term health complications.

Powassan virus is mostly recorded in the northern states but has reached as far inland as North Dakota.  It has also previously been detected as far south as South Carolina.

More deaths from the virus have been recorded this year than in 2020 — the latest available — when there was just one. The CDC is yet to release the data for 2021.

In 2019, the U.S. recorded nine deaths from the virus — the most on record. 

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