HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Four Connecticut residents have tested positive for the tick-borne Powassan virus (POWV), state Department of Public Health officials announced Monday. The four cases are the first identified in the state in 2023.
State health officials said two men in their 60s from Middlesex and Litchfield counties became ill in early July, and two women in their 50s from Windham and Litchfield counties became sick in late July.
Health officials said all patients reported having a tick bite and were hospitalized with a central nervous system disease. They have been discharged and are recovering.
“The identification of four Connecticut residents with Powassan virus-associated illness emphasizes the importance of taking actions to protect yourself from tick bites from now through the late fall,” said Department of Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD. “Using insect repellent, 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.”
From 2016 to 2022, Connecticut had 19 Powassan virus-associated illnesses, including six in 2022, and two of the infections were fatal last year.
Powassan virus-associated illness has been reported from early spring until late fall.
After previously being bitten by a tick, West Hartford resident Doris Sugarman isn’t taking any chances outdoors after learning the Powassan virus has infected four Connecticut residents. “I pretty much stay on the paths, but as you can see, I do bring my Off!”
Symptoms of Powassan virus
The Powassan virus comes solely from tick bites and complicates the central nervous system. For some, symptoms may only present as a fever for a day or two, but in older populations, it could be deadly.
“Confusion, forgetfulness, more of a stiff neck, altered ability to walk or talk, functioning differently, not seeming like yourself, particularly for an older adult,” Juthani said.
She said predicting exactly where the infected ticks are in the state is hard to determine because often people don’t notice the exact moment they are bitten. This year’s weather has led to higher tick populations.
“With milder winters, what’s happening is many ticks are surviving, and they are surviving throughout the year, so when that happens, we have the ability or potential to be bitten by a tick or infected by a tick for many more months of the year than we used to think was possible,” Juthani said.
People hiking by the West Hartford Reservoir said the virus is on their minds, so they are taking extra precautions.
“I’m wearing pants, first of all, so they can’t bite my legs,” said Daniel Hauser, who is visiting from Brazil.
“It’s definitely scary, and we definitely try to stay away as much as we can, but we still like to be outside and enjoy life a little bit, but that’s why we always carry our bug spray,” Massachusetts resident Daniel Bondarovsky told News 8.
How to prevent tick bites
- Avoid areas where ticks are likely, such as grassy, brushy, or wooded areas. Ticks are active from spring to fall and may also be active on warmer days during winter.
- Consider the use of CDC-recommended mosquito/tick repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535, or 2-undecanone, and apply according to directions when outdoors. However, repellents containing at least 30% DEET have been reported to be the most effective.
- Check yourself, your children, and your pet animals for ticks immediately after coming indoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors may effectively reduce the risk of tick-borne disease.
- Examine clothing and gear carefully after coming indoors. Tumble dry clothing in a dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks carried inside.
- Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick-prevention products for your dog.
- Consider treating items such as boots, clothing, and hiking or camping gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
“I like to be prepared,” Sugarman said. I have grandchildren, so I really spray them and inspect them, and it’s always good to look at your clothes when you come in the house.”