Rhode Island woman dies of tick-borne Powassan virus
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is reporting a confirmed case of the tick-borne Powassan virus disease detected in a Rhode Island resident who later died after contracting the disease.
Laboratory testing was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which confirmed the finding earlier this month. The case involved a female over the over the age of 80 from Washington County, who developed neurological symptoms and died in mid-July.
Powassan is a tick-borne disease that is found mostly in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and in eastern Canada. Over 239 cases of Powassan have been reported in the United States in the past 10 years (2013-2022).
Powassan cases are rare, but the reported number of cases has increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2022, there were 93 cases of Powassan reported in New England: 49 cases in Massachusetts, 18 cases in Connecticut, 16 cases in Maine, five cases in New Hampshire, and five 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.