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Maine CDC confirms tick-borne virus death in York County

YORK COUNTY, Maine – A person in York County has died from infection with the tick-borne Powassan virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Thursday.

According to the Maine CDC, the death is the first fatal case of the virus this year. Two more infections were reported in 2024 in Kennebec and Lincoln counties.

The last death due to this virus occurred in May 2023.

Powassan virus disease is a rare but often serious illness, the Maine CDC explained on its website. The virus belongs to a group called flaviviruses, which can cause infection of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

Cases of Powassan are rare in the United States, with approximately 20 to 50 cases reported annually across the country from 2018 to 2023, the Maine Department of Health said in a news release.

“Maine has identified a record seven Powassan cases in 2023 and has recorded 25 infections with the virus since 2014, including four deaths in the last decade,” the press release said.

People can become infected with the virus if they are bitten by an infected deer or woodchuck tick, the CDC in the US state of Maine explained. The Powassan virus can be transmitted from the tick to humans as early as 15 minutes after the bite.

Deer ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing, but they are most active in spring, summer and fall.

People can also become infected with the virus through blood transfusions if the transfused blood is infected.

“Many people infected with Powassan virus do not become ill or have symptoms,” the state said in its news release. “For people who do develop symptoms, the time from tick bite to feeling unwell can begin any time within one month of the bite.”

Symptoms may include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, or memory loss. Some people may experience serious neurological problems, such as inflammation of the brain or spinal cord.

About 10 percent of people with severe illness can die, according to the CDC. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms.

“If you experience any of these symptoms after a tick bite, contact a doctor as soon as possible,” advises the Maine CDC.

How to protect yourself from tick bites

Ticks live in wooded, leafy and bushy areas. Deer ticks have been found in all 16 counties of Maine and are currently active.

“The best protection against all tick-borne diseases is to avoid tick bites,” says the Maine CDC.

To prevent illness, the CDC recommends being aware of tick habitats and taking precautions when in such areas. For example, wear light-colored clothing that covers your arms and legs. Tuck your pants into your socks.

You can also apply a government-approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or lemon eucalyptus oil to your skin and use permethrin on your clothing.

Check for ticks daily and after any outdoor activity. Check your family members and pets, too. Ask your pet's veterinarian about tick bite prevention for cats and dogs.

When you return home from an outdoor activity, remove your clothes and put them in the dryer before washing, as drying on high heat for 10 to 15 minutes can kill ticks that may have attached themselves to your pants, shirts or socks rather than to you.

For more information, visit the Maine CDC's virus webpage. For general information about ticks, visit the University of Maine Tick Laboratory's webpage.