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New Fairfield resident tests positive for tick-borne Powassan virus

Two Connecticut residents, including one from New Fairfield, have tested positive for Powassan virus.  In the announcement Tuesday, the state Department of Public Health says these are the first cases of the infection this year. 

Powassan virus is spread to people through the bite of an infected tick black-legged, or ‘deer’ tick. It takes one week to one month after the bite of an infected tick to develop symptoms, and the virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after the tick first attaches. 

There were only 10 cases of the illness from 2016 through 2020.  Two of the infections were fatal. 

In the cases this year, both patients are between 50 to 79 years of age, and became ill during the third week of April. Both were hospitalized with central nervous system disease and have been discharged and are recovering. 

Acting Commissioner Dr Deidre Gifford says this emphasizes the need to take actions to prevent tick bites while ticks are most active, from now through the late fall.  Using insect repellent, avoiding areas where ticks are likely, and checking carefully for ticks after being outside can reduce the chance of being infected with this virus.

While most people infected with POWV likely experience no symptoms or a mild flu-like illness, some people will develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system. About 1 out of 10 cases of severe illness are fatal and approximately half of survivors experience long term health problems. Severe cases may begin with fever, vomiting, headache, or weakness and rapidly progress to confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, or seizures. There is not a vaccine or a specific treatment for POWV associated illness.

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