Maine reports first case of rare tick-borne disease since 2017

Person diagnosed with Powassan encephalitis

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN
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(CNN) - Health officials in Maine are warning about the potential for more cases of Powassan virus disease after one person was confirmed to be sick with the rare tick-borne illness, the first reported case in the state since 2017.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that a person in the southern part of the state had Powassan encephalitis, a severe disease that causes inflammation in the brain. The agency said the patient showed symptoms in late June and was hospitalized.

The Maine CDC issued an advisory to physicians that more cases could be possible and suggested that doctors consider testing for the disease in patients with unexplained encephalitis, meningitis or high fever during the summer and early fall.

Powassan virus disease is spread by three types of ticks, including the deer tick that transmits Lyme disease. Not everyone infected with the virus shows symptoms, but those who do might experience fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Severe forms can cause swelling in the brain, called encephalitis, or in the membranes around the brain and the spinal cord, called meningitis. Symptoms can include confusion, loss of coordination, seizures and difficulty speaking, and people with severe symptoms often need to be hospitalized.

Signs and symptoms can begin one week to one month after being bitten by a tick.

There is no specific treatment for people who have the illness. According to the CDC, cases of the disease in the United States typically occur in the northeast and the Great Lakes region when ticks are most active: during late spring, early summer and mid-fall. The agency recommends avoiding tick exposure by using insect repellents and carefully inspecting yourself and your pets after time outdoors.

In 2018, states reported 21 cases of Powassan virus disease to the CDC; three people died.

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