Woman first to die from rare Powassan virus in Connecticut

The 90-year-old woman was admitted to hospital in early May with symptoms including a fever, headache and altered mental status

Fossilised tick shows relationship between parasites and dinosaurs

A Connecticut woman has died of the Powassan virus, a rare tick-borne disease, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) reported Tuesday evening.

The woman, between the ages of 90 to 99, was the first person in the state to die from the rare Powassan virus this season, an illness that is typically transmitted to humans when an infected deer tick, groundhog tick or squirrel tick bites a person and passes it onto them.

The woman came down with the illness in early May and was later admitted to hospital with symptoms that included a headache, an altered mental status, fever, nausea, chills and chest pain. She died on 17 May after her condition worsened, the DPH said.

According to the state’s health agency, the 90-year-old had a known tick bite, but it had been removed two weeks before she came down with the illness.

This recent case marks the second resident in the state to test positive for the rare virus.

In March, a Connecticut man from Windham County between the ages of 50 and 59 tested positive for the virus.

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

Within Connecticut, the health authority has documented a dozen cases between 2017 and 2021 and of those people, two were fatal.

Most people who contract the virus will face little to no symptoms, state health officials said. One in 10 severe cases are fatal and approximately half of severe cases lead to longterm health problems, the DPH said

Symptoms that people who have recently been bit by a tick should monitor for include fever, headache, vomiting and weakness. If there’s reason to believe that a person has developed one of the more severe diseases (encephalitis or meningitis), then you should additionally monitor for confusion, difficulty speaking, seizures and loss of coordination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani cautioned that the most recent death from Powassan virus marks the need “take actions to prevent tick bites from now through the late fall”.

“Using insect repellant, avoiding areas where ticks are likely, and checking carefully for ticks after being outside can reduce the chance of you or your children being infected with this virus,” Dr Juthani said in a DPH release.

The fatal Connecticut case follows the death of a man in Maine who contracted the same rare virus from a tick bite. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the death of an adult-aged man from Waldo County in April, after they said he developed neurological symptoms while being treated in hospital.

The agency noted these severe symptoms can occur in 10 per cent of people who contract the disease from infection.

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