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Powassan Is a Tick-Borne Virus More Dangerous Than Lyme

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The unseasonably warm winter was a nice break from bone-chilling storms, but it comes with a major downside—ticks, lots and lots of ticks. Scientists have predicted 2017 will be a record year for the obnoxious blood-sucking insects and all the diseases that come with them. 

"Tick-borne diseases are on the rise, and prevention should be on everyone's mind, particularly during the spring and summer, and early fall when ticks are most active," Rebecca Eisen, Ph.D., a research biologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Chicago Tribune.

When you think of ticks, you likely think of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection often recognized by its hallmark "bull's-eye rash." Nearly 40,000 people got it in 2015, according to the CDC, a spike of 320 percent, and many more cases are predicted. But while Lyme may be the most discussed tick-borne illness, thanks to celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Avril Lavigne, and Kelly Osbourne speaking out about their experiences, it's certainly not the only disease you can get from a tick bite.

The CDC lists over 15 known illnesses that are transmitted via tick bite and cases cover all of the U.S., including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and STARI. Last year a new infection called babesosis made headlines. There's even a tick-bite disease that can make you allergic to meat (seriously!).

Now, people are concerned about a surge in a deadly tick-borne disease called Powassan. Powassan is a viral infection characterized by fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. While it's much rarer than other tick-borne illnesses, it's much more severe. Patients frequently require hospitalization and can have long-term neurologic problems—and worse, it can be deadly.

But before you panic and cancel all your hikes, campouts, and outdoor runs through fields of flowers, it's important to know that ticks are relatively easy to guard against, says Christina Liscynesky, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. For example, wear tight-fitting clothes that cover all your skin, and opt for light-colored clothing to help you spot the critters faster. But perhaps the best news is that ticks generally crawl around on your body for up to 24 hours before settling down to bite you (is that good news?!) so your best defense is a good "tick check" after being outdoors. Check your whole body, including the place ticks like best like—your scalp, your groin, and between your toes. (Here are six ways to protects yourself from the nasty critters.)

"Check your body for ticks daily when camping or hiking or if you live in a tick-heavy area and use a good insect repellent," Dr. Liscynesky advises, adding that it's important to put on the insect spray or lotion after your sunscreen. (You wouldn't forget sunscreen, right?)

Find one? Simply brush it off and crush it if it hasn't attached, or use tweezers to remove it immediately from your skin if it has latched on, making sure to dislodge all mouthparts, Dr. Liscynesky says. (Gross, we know.) "Wash a tick bite site with soap and water and cover with a bandage, no antibiotic ointment required," she says. If you remove the tick quickly, chances of getting any illness from it are low. If you're not sure how long it's been in your skin, or if you start to experience symptoms like a fever or rash, call your doc immediately.

 

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