Due to global awareness campaigns, we are all aware of Lyme disease and the danger it poses, especially to those who frequent the outdoors. However, Lyme disease is not the only tickborne disease capable of infecting humans. Though it continues to be exceedingly rare, the Powassan virus has seen a recent uptick in cases. Still, public knowledge of the virus remains limited.

Powassan virus was first discovered in 1958, when a boy became sick and eventually died in Powassan, Ontario, Canada, where the virus got its namesake. Since then, there are only around 100 documented cases of Powassan virus, however about 60 of these cases took place within the past 10 years, leading tick scientists to call for greater awareness of the rare but potentially deadly disease. In fact, about 1 in every 10 cases of the virus ends in fatalities, and over half of those who survive the illness deal with permanent disabilities. Perhaps most frightening is the fact that there are currently no known cures. The Powassan virus is mostly endemic to North America at this point, with two confirmed cases in Sussex County, New Jersey in 2019, though there have been reports of Powassan in parts of Russia as well.

So how is Powassan virus spread? Black legged ticks or deer ticks can spread the virus through bites, and researchers believe ticks can infect humans in as little as 15 minutes. The CDC notes that groundhogs, squirrels, and white footed mice are the most common carriers of the virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, swelling of the brain, vomiting, confusion, memory loss, trouble speaking and more, though many infected with the virus do not develop any symptoms, making Powassan virus difficult to detect in some cases. Fortunately, the virus cannot be spread from human to human.

Preventative measures for Powassan virus are much the same as other tickborne illnesses like Lyme disease. These include but are not limited to: walking in the center of trails to avoid contact with ticks, keeping your lawn well manicured, applying bug repellents on your skin and clothing, wearing long sleeves, and showering immediately after returning home. The virus may be extremely rare, but knowledge and awareness never hurts, especially due to the upward trend of Powassan cases in recent years.