RI man diagnosed with rare tick-borne ‘Powassan’ disease


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A Rhode Island man is recovering after contracting the Powassan virus, a rare tick-borne disease, according to the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH).

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for RIDOH, said the 70-year-old Providence County resident was otherwise healthy prior to the diagnosis.

Wendelken said the man was experiencing neurological symptoms, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the case through laboratory tests.

The Powassan virus is rare, but reports of cases have increased in recent years, according to Wendelken. More than 166 cases have been reported nationwide in the past 10 years. In New England, between 2010 and 2019, there were 56 cases reported, including 31 cases in Massachusetts and four cases in Rhode Island.

Symptoms of Powassan include fever, headache, vomiting and generalized weakness. The disease can progress to meningoencephalitis, which can include altered mental status, seizures, aphasia (difficulty understanding or speaking), muscular weakness or paralysis and movement disorders. People who contract severe Powassan disease often need to be hospitalized.

There is no vaccine, and most tick-borne diseases have to be treated by a doctor using antibiotics.

Wendelken didn’t specify whether the resident had contracted the virus in Rhode Island or elsewhere, but did advise everyone to take the proper precautions against tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme Disease.

Stop Ticks: Repel, Check and Remove

Repel – Keep ticks off you, your children, and pets by:

  • Avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaves. If you are going to be in a wooded area, walk in the center of the trail to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaves at the edges of the trail. You can also spray your clothes with permethrin to keep ticks away. Make sure to not spray this on your skin.
  • Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts when outside.
  • Tucking your pants into your socks so ticks do not crawl under your clothes.
  • Wearing light-colored clothing so you can see ticks more easily.

Check – Check yourself, your children, and pets, for ticks by:

  • Taking a shower as soon as you come inside if you have been in grassy or wooded areas.
  • Doing a full-body tick check using a mirror; parents should check their kids for ticks and pay special attention to the area in and around the ears, in the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and in their hair.
  • Checking your pets for ticks as well because they can bring ticks into the home.

Remove – Remove ticks from your body, as well as from children and pets, if you find them by:

  • Using a set of tweezers to remove the tick. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up.
  • If you don’t have tweezers, use your fingers with a tissue or rubber gloves.

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