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Health officials in Maine reported this year’s first death from an incurable tick-borne disease, prompting Americans to stay active as outdoor activities begin.

Robert J. Weymouth, 58, of Topsham, Maine, died of complications from the Powassan virus, which caused severe neurological problems, according to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With only about 25 cases reported each year since 2015, the disease is extremely rare, but it can be left untreated and can lead to serious health problems, including brain infection, encephalitis, or inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, known as meningitis. .

Most people infected with the virus do not show symptoms, but those who do become aware of it up to a month after being bitten by infected ticks, which include flu-like symptoms, seizures, brain swelling and death in up to 15 percent of cases.

The Weymouth death is the third Powassan death in Maine since 2015, and, as winters get warmer and shorter, the world has become more hospitable to disease-causing ticks.

Robert Weymouth passed away after two weeks in hospital.  His medical team diagnosed the swelling in the brain too late with Poisson's virus.

Robert Weymouth passed away after two weeks in hospital. His medical team diagnosed the swelling in the brain too late with Poisson’s virus.

The main vector of Powassan is the tick Ixodes scapularis, also known as the black-legged tick or deer tick, as seen on deer.

The main vector of Powassan is the tick Ixodes scapularis, also known as the black-legged tick or deer tick, as seen on deer.

In the US, Powassan disease is found primarily in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region

In the US, Powassan disease is found primarily in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region

Maine officials are warning residents to watch out for ticks when outdoors, especially in areas with woods, leaves and bushes.

Deer ticks that carry Powassan virus thrive in areas with temperatures above 45˚F and humidity of at least 85 percent. Shorter winters are expected to extend the period during which ticks are active each year, increasing human exposure to diseases such as Powassan and Lyme.

Powassan virus kills about one in 10 people infected with the virus, but the virus can be especially dangerous in the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

Powassan virus is rarely diagnosed – only a few dozen cases are diagnosed each year – because most people infected with the virus show no symptoms.

Robert’s widow, Annemarie Weymouth, told the Local Maine News Partner that her husband was immunocompromised and had rheumatoid arthritis. Powassan did not go to the hospital at first for symptoms.

Mr. Weymouth went to Maine Medical Center when he noticed swelling on his arm and a knee problem that required surgery. But after that, he lost all feeling on the right side of his body.

An MRI scan soon after revealed Mr Weymouth had severe brain swelling, indicating the virus had reached an advanced stage. A tap on the spine confirmed the culprit was a tick-borne virus.

Many people infected with Powassan virus do not experience any symptoms because doctors are often unable to zero in on a possible diagnosis unless they do complete blood or spinal fluid tests.

Mr Weymouth’s widow is upset that doctors around her husband appear to know about the disease. He was in the hospital for weeks before the medical team decided he had the virus.

By the time Mr. Weymouth decided he was positive for Powassan, it was too late.

‘There is no known cure for it, even if they knew it was Powassan from day one,’ said the widow.

“I think we would have been more diligent if we had known this disease was out there,” she added. We’d do tick checks, but we’d use more spray and be more careful.’

Maps showing the distribution of Powassan virus in Northeastern America

Maps showing the distribution of Powassan virus in Northeastern America

The main vector of Powassan is the tick Ixodes scapularis, also known as the black-legged tick or deer tick, as seen on deer.

The hard-bodied black-legged tick lives in the eastern and northern Midwest of the United States and southeastern Canada and is a carrier of Lyme disease.

The ticks are most common in wooded areas, of which Maine has many.

There are currently no vaccines or drugs to prevent the disease, and treatment instead focuses on easing symptoms, which include breathing problems and brain swelling.

There are two types of Powassan virus: lineage 1 and lineage 2. Only lineage 2 is carried by the black-legged tick.

Cases develop in late spring, early summer, and mid-fall, when ticks are most active, primarily in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region.

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