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New scary tick disease surfacing in region

A rare wood tick disease is being reported in the northern U.S. Photo courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

MINOT, N.D.— It is the season of the ticks -- and another new dangerous virus carried by the creatures has been been reported in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The virus, however, has yet to be confirmed in North Dakota..

The latest scary virus known to be carried by the three types of ticks, including the deer tick, is Powassan. It's rare, to be sure, but a few cases have already been documented in neighboring Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Approximately 75 cases of the virus disease were reported in the U.S. over the past 10 years, with most cases in the northeast U.S. and the Great Lakes region, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 15 percent of those people bitten by ticks carrying Powassan do not survive. Those who do survive have a 50-50 chance of suffering long-term neurological damage.

Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. There is no specific treatment, but people with severe POW virus illnesses often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain

"It's getting closer (to North Dakota)," said Laura Cronquist, epidemiologist and division of disease control for the North Dakota Health Department. "There's a probability that physicians are not really testing for it."

However, that does not necessarily mean Powassan hasn't already arrived in the state. Cronquist said it is probably only a matter of time before someone is diagnosed with Powassan in North Dakota.

While deadly Powassan certainly raises the awareness of the havoc a tiny tick can cause, there are other diseases that those bitten by ticks are more likely to encounter. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are among the most well known.

"You can have joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, chills, headaches, fever, rashes," said Cronquist.

Fever and headaches are the most common symptoms. Sometimes a rash will be present too, but not always. Some diseases can be transmitted from ticks to humans within an hour or two. Symptoms take a few days to develop, often causing infected persons to believe they are coming down with the flu.

Prevention is the key, said Cronquist. She recommends people use Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellent when going outdoors, such as when camping or hiking. There's a few other recommendations to help keep wood ticks away.

"Hikers should walk in the middle of the trail, not in the grass and brush where you are more likely to find ticks," advises Cronquist.

Tick checks should be performed on a regular basis. Placing clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes will kill ticks attached to clothing. A person who suspects they have been exposed to ticks should bathe or shower as soon as possible after returning home from an outing.

"Don't forget about your pets," said Cronquist. "They can carry ticks into your car or your house. I can't really recommend any preventive measures, but I do advise that you check with your veterinarian."

Tips for reducing ticks

• Use EPA-registered insect repellent.

• Use products that contain permethrin on clothing and tents.

• Wear light colored clothing to expose ticks.

• Wear long pants tucked into your socks.

• Keep your shirt tucked in.

• Examine gear and pets for wood ticks.

Source: ND Department of Health

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