HARTFORD — The state Department of Public Health has announced that two Connecticut residents have tested positive for Powassan virus infection.
These are the first cases of POWV associated illness identified in Connecticut in 2021. During 2016 to 2020, 10 cases of POWV associated illness were reported in Connecticut, including two in 2020. Two of the infections were fatal.
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 of POWV disease.
The virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after the tick first attaches. Powassan virus associated illness have been reported from early spring until late fall.
The patients, who are between 50-79 years of age, became ill during the third week of April. Laboratory tests performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colo., confirmed the presence of antibodies to POWV.
Both patients were hospitalized with central nervous system disease and have been discharged and are recovering. The patients reside in Fairfield and New Haven Counties.
“The identification of two Connecticut residents with Powassan virus associated illness emphasizes the need to take actions to prevent tick bites while ticks are most active, from now through the late fall.” said DPH Acting Commissioner Deidra S. Gifford, M.D., MPH. “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.”
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 one 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. Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids and prevention of other infections.
Those seeking information on Powassan virus and how to prevent tick bites, may visit www.cdc.gov/powassan/index.html.