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Powassan Virus is a Growing Tick-Borne Threat in Massachusetts

Posted by Mosquito Squad

May 8, 2017

Powassan virus (POW) is a tick-borne virus transmitted by the deer tick. What puts the wow in POW? First of all, it can be transmitted from the tick to a human in 15 minutes. That same tick would have to be attached to a human for up to 24 hours to pass the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Wow indeed! Reporting from the Today Show tells us that this virus is not really new, but changes have caused a need to raise awareness.

The first case of POW was reported in Ontario in the 1950s. However, the virus at that point was being carried by a tick that rarely bit humans, says Professor Durland Fish of the Yale School of Public Health. Powassan has begun to appear in deer ticks, a tick we know all too well here in Massachusetts.


If a tick that carries POW bites you it can take from a week to a month for symptoms to develop, if they do at all. Many will not have symptoms of Powassan virus, but for those that do symptoms can be very severe and dangerous.

POW can infect the central nervous system which may cause inflammation of the brain and the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (encephalitis and meningitis). The symptoms of this type of Powassan infection can include vomiting, confusion, weakness, fever, headache, loss of coordination and speech, and seizures. The CDC states that 50% of severe Powassan virus cases will leave the patient with permanent neurological damage, and 10% will most likely die.

There is no remedy for the Powassan virus, only treatment for the symptoms. Because of the possibilities of severe, life-altering damage, it is important to see your healthcare provider immediately if you suspect Powassan virus in you or a family member. Often the virus requires hospitalization, and treatment will include fluids, respiratory therapy, and medication to reduce brain swelling.


Powassan has been a definite addition to the discussion of tick control in Massachusetts. Seventy-five cases have been reported over the last 10 years in the United States. Most have been in the Northeast and Great Lake areas, with 8 of the 75 in Massachusetts. Just last week a 5-month-old was diagnosed in Connecticut.

Statistics for Powassan virus are based solely on information from people that became very sick. There is a real possibility that many more people were infected and just didn’t know it. Evidence shows that it is very likely that instances of POW are on the rise. A study of New England deer shows signs of infection have been growing since 1979. Another study at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute found that 7-10 percent of ticks carried the virus.

All of this new information tells us one thing: Powassan virus prevention needs to become a part of the conversation when it comes to tick protection. To prevent becoming ill, the best thing you can do is prevent tick bites. Continue to enjoy your home and your outdoor spaces by letting us at Mosquito Squad of Franklin & Framingham handle your tick control with our 85-90% effective backyard tick treatments. Call today for a free quote!