Some of my favorite childhood memories take place in the empty lot behind my old house. It was about two acres of land filled with dirt, sagebrush, and tumbleweeds. And as unpleasant and unsanitary as it sounds to me now, it was a dream for my siblings and me. We dug holes, made hideouts, played kick-the-can, and had many other grand adventures that I will always cherish. What I don’t cherish were the ticks. I probably spent just as many hours playing in the field as I did on the bathroom floor while my mom combed through my hair looking for the little critters. There’s no doubt about it, ticks are nasty. The only thing worse than a tick is a tick with a deadly virus.
The Tick Carrying the POW Virus
As it turns out, there is a tick out there with a deadly brain virus. It’s called the Powassan (POW) virus, and it can cause encephalitis (or swelling in the brain). The POW virus can also cause meningitis, inflammation in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. And the worst bit, about 10% of cases are fatal. (1, 2, 3)
The most common tick to spread the virus is the black-legged tick or deer tick. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed with an oval-shaped body and small head. The tick could be all black in color or have an orange strip on the end of their abdomen. And to make matters worse, this is the same tick associated with Lyme disease. (4, 5)
Where Do I Find The Tick Carrying The POW Virus?
The only known cases of the POW virus transmitted by this tick are in Russia, Canada, and the following U.S. States:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
Luckily, reported cases have been rare, but the number of cases has increased over the years. Just from 2014 to 2017, the number of people reported in the U.S. with the neuroinvasive disease increased from 7 to 33. (6)
How Do I Know If I Am Infected?
The difficult thing about the POW virus is that many people don’t develop symptomsat all. Others develop symptoms anywhere from a week to a month past the time they were bitten. However, possible symptoms include:
- Loss of coordination
- Difficulty speaking
If you are bitten by a tick carrying the POW virus or believe that you may have the POW virus, visit your doctor immediately. (1)
How To Avoid Ticks
After learning about this tick carrying the POW virus, I want to hide in my room and never step foot outside again. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option. Instead, try some of the following tips to avoid ticks as much as possible.
- Take extra care in grassy, brushy, and wooded areas as these are tick hot-spots.
- Use an EPA registered insect repellent.
- Check your clothes, bags, backpacks, and shoes for ticks just before coming back inside.
- Wash your clothes with hot water or throw your clothes into the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks.
- Don’t forget to check your dogs, cats, or any other fur-babies for ticks as well.
- Take a hot shower and do a body-check for any ticks. Use a mirror to check hard-to-see areas as well. (7)
Don’t Let The Little Guy Push You Around
Hearing about a deadly tick carrying the POW virus can be unsettling. Especially considering how much time I spent playing in the sagebrush as a kid. But don’t let a little tick get in the way of your outdoor adventuring. Stay prepared by using some of the tips above, so that this little guy will have to pick on someone his own size.