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Ticks with deadly virus found in U.S. — How to protect yourself

If Lyme disease wasn’t scary enough, now comes word that ticks in Connecticut are testing positive for Powassan virus, an illness that has some nasty side effects — and it has no cure.

The virus is extremely rare: Only about 50 cases of Powassan virus have been reported in the U.S. between 1958 and 2011, according to a 2012 study. It’s definitely scary, though: The virus can cause encephalitis, a brain infection that causes extreme swelling and inflammation, and meningitis, an infection of the membranes of the spine and brain, according to Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

More: Lyme disease symptoms that are misdiagnosed as the flu

Both Lyme disease and Powassan are carried through deer ticks. However, what’s scary is that, unlike Lyme, the Powassan virus shows no tell-tale rash and the tick doesn’t have to stay on your body for long to transmit the infection — it only takes about an hour. According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion and seizures, among other things. Many people don’t show any symptoms at all.

About 10 percent of those who develop encephalitis end up dying from it. About half of survivors develop chronic neurological problems, including muscle wasting and memory problems. There is currently no vaccination or treatment for the virus.

More: What you should know about the mystery illness known as Morgellons

Protect yourself against tick-borne viruses this spring and summer

The good news? The Powassan virus is extremely rare, so your chances of contracting the virus are slim. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to protect yourself — and your family — from tick-borne diseases during the warmer months. Remember to:

  • Understand where ticks live. According to the CDC, they tend to live in moist, humid environments like in the woods or grass. Avoid walking in bushes and through tall grass and instead stick to trails.
  • Use DEET on the skin. Repellents that contain 20 percent or more of DEET can protect for several hours. Always apply DEET to children’s skin for them.
  • Treat boots and other outdoor gear with permethrin, a synthetic insect repellent that kills ticks.
  • Check your clothing and body for ticks when you come indoors. Experts recommend putting your clothes in a high-heat dryer for an hour to kill any unnoticed bugs. Check all areas of the body — including your belly button, ears, hair and nose for any ticks.
  • Shower after coming inside. According to the CDC, showering within two hours of being exposed to ticks reduces your risk of contracting Lyme disease.

And if you do find a tick? Be sure to remove it properly so no body parts are left behind.

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