PROVIDENCE, RI — As Rhode Islanders embrace warm weather and outdoor activities, the Rhode Island Department of Health warns of Powassan, a rare tick-borne illness that’s on the rise throughout New England.
Powassan is found mostly in the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions of the U.S. and in eastern Canada. More than 166 cases of Powassan have been reported in the United States in the past 10 years. Earlier this week, the RIDOH confirmed a case of Powassan detected in a Rhode Island resident in his 70s from Providence County, who developed neurological symptoms and is now recovering.
Powassan cases are rare, but the reported number of cases has increased in recent years. Between 2010 and 2019, there were 56 cases of Powassan reported in New England – 31 cases in Massachusetts, eight cases in Connecticut, eight cases in Maine, five cases in New Hampshire, and four cases in Rhode Island.
Initial symptoms of Powassan include fever, headache, vomiting, and generalized weakness. The disease usually progresses to meningoencephalitis, which may include meningeal signs, altered mental status, seizures, aphasia (difficulty understanding or speaking), paresis (muscular weakness or paralysis), movement disorders, or cranial nerve palsies. People with severe Powassan disease often need to be hospitalized. There is no vaccine or treatment for Powassan, so preventing exposure to ticks is the best strategy to avoid this disease, RIDOH advises.
Tick safety tips
RIDOH and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) offered tips to prevent tick-borne diseases, including Powassan and Lyme Disease, when outside:
Repel – Keep ticks off you, your children, and pets by:
- Avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaves. If you are going to be in a wooded area, walk in the center of the trail to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaves at the edges of the trail. You can also spray your clothes with permethrin to keep ticks away. Make sure to not spray this on your skin.
- Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts when outside. o Tucking your pants into your socks so ticks do not crawl under your clothes. o Wearing light-colored clothing so you can see ticks more easily.
Check – Check yourself, your children, and pets, for ticks by:
- Taking a shower as soon as you come inside if you have been in grassy or wooded areas.
- Doing a full-body tick check using a mirror; parents should check their kids for ticks and pay special attention to the area in and around the ears, in the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and in their hair.
- Checking your pets for ticks as well because they can bring ticks into the home.
Remove – Remove ticks from your body, as well as from children and pets, if you find them.
- Use a set of tweezers to remove the tick. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up.
- If you don’t have tweezers, use your fingers with a tissue or rubber gloves.
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