Maine man dies after contracting rare virus spread by infected tick bite

The adult-aged man developed neurological symptoms and died in hospital, the CDC confirmed

Fossilised tick shows relationship between parasites and dinosaurs

A man in Maine died after becoming infected with a rare virus he contracted from a tick bite, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

On Wednesday, Maine’s CDC reported the death of the adult-aged man from Waldo County, an area that’s located about 30 miles southwest of Bangor, who the agency said died from Powassan virus, a rare pathogen that the US has only recorded about 25 cases of per year since 2015.

Powassan virus is transmitted to humans when an infected deer tick, groundhog tick or squirrel tick bites a person and passes it onto them.

Symptoms for the viral infection typically set in within a week to a month after the initial bite from one of the infected bloodsuckers, but the CDC warns that many people with Powassan virus wouldn’t even realise it as most who become infected won’t experience symptoms.

For the man who died in Maine, the infectious disease agency reported that he died while in hospital after developing neurological symptoms, which the agency noted can occur in 10 per cent of people who contract severe disease from the infection.

Some of the people who become infected with this severe disease, they said, can develop a brain infection, known as encephalitis, or in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, meningitis.

Symptoms that the CDC says that people should be on the lookout for if they’ve been bitten by a tick and suspect they may have contracted Powassan virus include fever, headache, vomiting and weakness, or if they suspect they’ve potentially developed one of the more severe diseases (encephalitis or meningitis) they should monitor for confusion, difficulty speaking, seizures and loss of coordination.

There is no specific treatment for Powassan virus, but the CDC advises the first step to treat the rare virus is to prevent a bite from a potentially infected tick from happening in the first place.

“Ticks are active and looking for a host to bite right now,” Nirav D Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in a statement. “I urge Maine people and visitors to take steps that prevent tick bites.”

Though it’s an uncommon virus to contract, before 2015 its presence was even more scarce as the country had only recorded 10 cases per year between 2011 and 2014.

In Maine alone, the state has just reported a total of 14 cases since 2010.

Part of what could be driving the rates of the virus up in recent years is the expansion of its host, deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks), throughout the United States.

Though they’re more commonly feared for carrying the bacteria that causes the severely debilitating Lyme disease, black-legged ticks can also pass on the pathogen that causes Powassan virus and the critter has been increasingly creeping its way across the country.

Experts acknowledge that the reasoning behind the tick-boom in recent years, which covers a variety of species, not just the black-legged ones, can be explained by theories as varied as the terrain the critters now inhabit across the continental US.

But for deer ticks, recent research posits that a warming planet has facilitated the migration of the bloodsuckers further north and with shorter winters has even provided a longer season for the critters to bite human hosts.

Another explanation for the increased presence of these ticks suggests that a loss of biodiversity in recent years is to blame. A loss of biodiversity rarely upsets “generalist” species, such as white-tailed deer, who happen to be some of the bug’s main feasting options.

While other species may dwindle, the white-tailed deer, who has a varied diet and few natural predators in the US, thrives. And with a greater number of hosts to feast on, combined with a longer period of time to graze due to shortened and less abrasive winters, the black-legged tick population begins to climb.

The CDC again recommends the best advice to prevent any unwanted disease or virus contraction from a tick is to prevent the bite in the first place. They’re top tips include wearing bug repellant, having a friend or family member check you over when you come in from a wooded area, wearing long sleeves and pants tucked into your socks and tossing your clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes when you come in from a place known to have an active tick population.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in