• The patient had a known tick bite prior to the onset of symptoms
  • While Powassan virus is still "rare," the number of people affected has been growing
  • The best way to avoid such tick-borne diseases is to avoid ticks and tick bites

A Connecticut resident has died of the rare Powassan virus. Experts are raising concerns and urging people to take precautions.

It was the state's second case of the rare tick-borne Powassan virus (POWV) this year, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) announced earlier this week. The patient was reportedly a 90-99-year-old female woman from New London County. She got sick around early May, presenting symptoms such as chills, nausea, fever and altered mental status. Unfortunately, her condition only worsened and she eventually succumbed to the virus on May 17.

She reportedly had a known tick bite prior to the onset of her symptoms. Tests at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratory confirmed that she had antibodies for POWV.

This marks the state's first POWV death this year. Another Powassan case was confirmed in early May in a man who fell ill in March. That patient, a male 50-59 years of age, was hospitalized with a central nervous system disease. He was later discharged and recovered at home. He also had a known tick bite.

"This incident reminds us that residents need to take actions to prevent tick bites now through the late fall," DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani said in the news release.

Indeed, experts have also been expressing their concerns about ticks and their growing number.

"Every year, we receive an average of 3,000 [ticks], but in recent years, that number has increased to at least 6,000 ticks," Goudarz Moulei, chief scientist at a state-run lab that tests ticks, told WTNH, noting the importance of watching out for other tick-borne diseases apart from the more well-known Lyme disease.

According to the CDC, even though Powassan virus is still considered to be "rare," the number of people who have gotten sick from it has been growing in recent years. For instance, reported cases from 2011 to 2015 ranged from seven to 16 per year. However, cases jumped to 22 in 2016. By 2019, there were 43 cases.

There is no vaccine for Powassan virus, and there are no specific medicines to treat it either, noted the CDC. The best way to reduce one's risk of getting infected is to avoid ticks. This is particularly important because POWV can be transmitted within 15 minutes after the tick attaches, noted the DPH.

"Unlike Lyme disease, this virus can be transmitted in less than an hour versus 24 to 36 hours," said Moulei.

Important measures to prevent POWV and other tick-borne diseases include avoiding the places where ticks can be, such as woody and grassy areas, and remembering to check oneself, family members and even pets for ticks after coming indoors. It would also be wise to treat items and clothing with permethrin and use CDC-recommended insect repellents.

This photo taken at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in Bilthoven shows tick specimens used for a study on the new TBE tick virus, on August 18, 2016. Getty Images/ AFP/ Robin Van Lonkhuijsen