‘It does not spread through coughing or sneezing’

As the weather heats up with the summer months approaching, new concerns are arising over the spread of vector-borne diseases, and one northeast town has sounded the alarms over a recent discovery.

What’s happening?

As explained in USA Today, in April the town of Sharon, Massachusetts, confirmed its first case of Powassan virus, which is a disease spread through a tick bite that is becoming “increasingly more common in humans.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the virus as rare but also noted that the number of reported cases has risen in recent years.

The town of Sharon, which is located about 25 miles south of Boston, didn’t release information about the infected person’s condition. However, the Sharon Health Department has issued a warning to residents to take precautions against contracting the virus.

The CDC said that most people infected with the Powassan virus do not experience symptoms, but the ones who do can start to experience them from a week to a month after the tick bite. It was also noted that “it does not spread through coughing, sneezing or touching, but in rare cases, it has spread person-to-person through a blood transfusion.”

Why is this important?

As temperatures rise due to climate change, the habitat of ticks has been expanding, which could lead to an increase in tick-borne illnesses. The CDC warned that ticks are more active during warmer months from April to September.

Ticks, particularly the Lone Star tick that is common in southern and eastern parts of the U.S., have been linked to a variety of health issues such as the spread of alpha-gal syndrome, a rare and potentially life-threatening meat allergy.

Those who contract the Powassan virus can experience initial symptoms that include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. However, the virus can lead to more severe diseases like encephalitis, an infection of the brain, or meningitis, an infection of membranes around the brain and spinal cord.

The CDC said those who develop severe disease can experience confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, and seizures, and approximately one in 10 people with severe disease die. Nearly half the people with severe disease can experience long-term health issues that include “recurring headaches, loss of muscle mass, and strength and memory problems,” per USA Today.

What’s being done about this?

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines for the Powassan virus, nor are there medicines to treat those who have been infected with the disease.

The primary way to protect yourself from the Powassan virus and other vector-borne diseases is to avoid contact with ticks. The CDC said ticks are often found in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, as well as yards or neighborhoods, and they can also live on animals.

Before spending time in areas where ticks may be present, it’s important to treat clothing and gear with insect repellent and try to cover up as much skin as possible. After returning from being outdoors, checking your body and clothing for ticks is crucial. If you need to wash your clothes, using hot water first and tumble-drying them in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes can kill the ticks.

If you find a tick, remove it promptly and carefully. If you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms after a tick bite, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

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