NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Experts are sounding the alarm on ticks after officials announced the first fatal case of the Powassan virus in Connecticut this year.
The Department of Public Health says a woman in her 90s was bitten by a tick in New London County and succumbed to the virus back in May.
Goudarz Moulei is the chief scientist and director of a state-run lab in New Haven that tests ticks from across the state. Their process seems simple, but Moulei says the number of ticks being sent to the lab from residents this year is concerning. It’s up 50 percent.
“Accept ticks, and examine ticks, determine what type of ticks they are,” Moulei said. “Every year, we receive an average of 3,000 [ticks], but in recent years, that number has increased to at least 6,000 ticks.”
The latest fatal case of the Powassan virus in New London County has experts like Moulei sounding the alarm. He says it’s not just Lyme disease we should be worried about. Powassan virus is transmitted quickly after a bite from black-legged deer ticks.
“Unlike Lyme disease, this virus can be transmitted in less than an hour versus 24 to 36 hours,” Moulei said.
While this virus is rare, Moulei says the outcome can be severe with a fatality rate of 1 in 10.
“A great majority of people who are exposed to Powassan virus don’t show symptoms, however, those who show symptoms, ten percent of them, unfortunately, succumb to this disease,” Moulei said.
Symptoms of the Powassan virus can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and seizures.
He stresses being careful even in your own yard. Experts say there are a couple of things you should keep in mind. Keep your grass low, and well-manicured, stay out of the fringe if you can, and be mindful of your pets.
“They have to wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, they have to tuck their pants into their socks. They have to wear light-colored clothing,” Moulei said.
If you or a loved one got bitten by a tick, make sure you hold onto it, put it in a container like a Ziplock bag or a medicine bottle, then bring it to your local health department. They will send it to the lab and test it for diseases.