The first recorded death of a rare tickborne illness in Maryland is prompting state health officials to launch an informational campaign about how to avoid catching diseases carried by ticks.
An person who contracted the Powassan virus in Canada died from the rare disease after they returned to Maryland, according to Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman in a written statement Friday.
“We are very saddened to report the first death due to the Powassan virus in our state,” Kalyanaraman said in a press release from the Department of Health. “Powassan is very rare, and this is the first-ever case recorded in Maryland.”
Despite the recent fatality from the disease, Kalyanaraman said the Department of Health believes that the case does not indicate “any threat of local transmission in Maryland.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the virus is named after Powassan, Ontario, where it was first discovered in the late 1950’s. While rare, cases typically occur in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes area in the United States, and in Eastern Canadian provinces.
The CDC says that symptoms of the Powassan virus initially start with fever, headaches and weakness, though many people infected do not have symptoms.
Severe cases can include infections of the brain, membranes around the brain, or the spinal cord. Severe symptoms can include confusion, loss of coordination and seizures. According to the CDC, approximately one out of 10 people with severe cases of the virus die, and many who survive continue to have long-term health problems.
The CDC also notes that there are currently no medications to prevent or treat infections of the virus.
From 2004 to 2022, there were 288 human cases of Powassan, with 264 resulting in hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While Powassan is rare, cases have increased over recent years, according to the CDC. In addition, some ticks that carry Powassan can transmit other diseases to humans, such as Lyme disease.
The Maryland Department of Health recommends avoiding tick habitats, such as areas with high grass and leaf litter. If you do enter these areas, wear long sleeves and long pants.
People returning from outdoor activities in tick habitats should conduct a full body scan to ensure they did not pick up a tick along the way, specifically checking areas where ticks tend to hide: under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist.