CT woman dies from Powassan virus, health officials say

Connecticut saw its first person die from the Powassan virus — a tick-borne illness — this year, the state Department of Public Health announced Tuesday.

The patient was a New London County woman in her 90s. She became ill in early May and was admitted to a local hospital with fever, altered mental status, headache, chills, rigors, chest pain and nausea. As her condition worsened, the woman became unresponsive over the next two weeks. She died May 17, according to the DPH in a press release.

The state health agency said the woman had a known tick bite, which was removed two weeks before her symptoms began. Laboratory tests from the CDC confirmed the presence of Powassan virus antibodies.

“This incident reminds us that residents need to take actions to prevent tick bites now through the late fall,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani. “DPH stresses the use of insect repellent this summer and avoiding high-risk areas, such as tall grass, where ticks may be found. It’s also important to check carefully for ticks after being outside which can reduce the chance of you and your family members being infected with this dangerous virus.”

DPH said the woman was the second known positive case for Powassan virus infection this year. The first patient was a Windham County man in his 50s who became ill in late March. He was hospitalized with a central nervous system disease and had a known tick bite. He was later discharged from the hospital and recovered at home, the DPH said.

From 2017 to 2021, the DPH said there were 12 reported cases of POWV associated illness, including three in 2021. Of the 12, two were fatal.

POWV is usually spread through the bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick. After the bite, it takes a week to one month for symptoms to develop. The virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after the tick first attaches, according to the DPH.

Most people infected with POWV won’t experience symptoms or at most have a mild-like flu illness. Some, though, will develop severe illness affecting their central nervous system. About one in 10 cases of severe illness are fatal, and approximately half of survivors experience long-term health problems, the DPH said.

Severe cases may begin with fever, vomiting, headache or weakness. Symptoms may rapidly progress to confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking or seizures, the DPH added.

There is no vaccine nor a specific treatment for POWV associated illness. Doctors treat severe illness with supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support and hydration, according to the DPH.

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