Tick-borne Powassan virus confirmed in Ridgefield

A Ridgefield resident has tested positive for the rare Powassan virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Powassan virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected tick.

“Although still rare, the number of reported cases of people sick from Powassan virus has increased in recent years,” the CDC said. “Most cases in the United States occur in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions from late spring through mid-fall when ticks are most active. There are no vaccines to prevent or medicines to treat Powassan virus disease. Reduce your risk of infection from Powassan virus by avoiding ticks.”

This year, Connecticut has had four human cases of Powassan virus infection, one of which ended in a fatality.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and memory problems.

“With Powassan, the tick only needs 15 minutes to transmit the virus. It’s very scary,” said Karen Gaudian, Ridgefield’s municipal agent for the elderly and member of the town’s BLAST Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Program.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the Board of Selectmen at its meeting Wednesday night about the affected resident.

On Thursday, Marconi said he believed the tick bite happened in Ridgefield.

“This case dates back a few months,” he said. “The question is, why did it take so long to find out?”

The answer is simple: Most labs don’t test for Powassan virus, Gaudian said.

“Nobody is testing for it and it’s not really being studied around here, at least to my knowledge,” Gaudian said. “The number of incidents are increasing though.”

Marconi confirmed it was the first case detected in Ridgefield.

“We want people to be aware of this very serious issue,” he said. “I know the individual fairly well, and she’s been very sick for a couple of months now. We want people to be taking all of the necessary precautions.”

Those precautions include bathing within two hours of outdoor activity, looking for ticks and rashes daily, applying repellents to skin and clothing, spraying the yard and maintain a tick-safe landscape, and treating pets with veterinarian recommended products.

“Clothes should come off right away when you come inside from an outdoor activity,” Gaudian said. “If your clothes are dry, throw them in the dryer for 10 minutes and that will kill all ticks. If they are wet, leave your clothes in the dryer for one hour.”

The disease carries a 10 percent fatality rate.

Gaudian said that survivors can be left with permanent neurological impairment.

“Don’t wait to go see a doctor if you’re feeling any of the symptoms,” she said.

“You must take care of yourself immediately,” Marconi added. “Proceed right away to a doctor or a hospital. Use every precaution.”

For information, visit Lyme Connection’s website or call Gaudian at 203-431-2754.

Click here for a list of prevention tips and programs.