The first death related to the Powassan virus was recorded in Minnesota Wednesday according to a release by the Minnesota Department of Health
The victim was a Northern Minnesota woman in her 60s.
Another likely Powassan case was identified in Anoka County this year in a man also in his 60s.
Both the female and male cases became ill in May after spending time outdoors and noticing tick bites -- the Powassan virus is transmitted by blacklegged or “deer” ticks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
They both developed brain infections due to the virus. While the female passed away from the infection, the male was hospitalized and is now recovering at home.
The Powassan virus was first identified in 1958 in Powassan, Ontario. Since that time about 60 cases have been identified in North America.
The virus was mostly seen in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. until the last decade when, cases were reported in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.
Locally, Powassan infected ticks have been found in Houston County, and the heavy forested hardwood areas of southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin offer a good home to ticks that can carry the virus.
Powassan virus is related to West Nile virus and both diseases can cause severe infections of the central nervous system.
These infections involve inflammation of the brain or the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
In the MDH release, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist said, “Although Powassan cases are rarely identified, it is a severe disease which is fatal in about 1o percent of cases.”
Even in cases where death does not occur, survivors may experience long-term neurological problems related to movement, balance or speech, said Melissa Kemperman of the MDH.
“Inflammation of the brain is a serious condition and it may take weeks or months to recover from that,” she said.
Symptoms of Powassan virus include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion and memory loss and occur between one and five weeks of an infectious tick bite.
Health officials recommend using tick repellents containing up to 30 percent concentration of DEET or permethrin.
Also wearing long pants and light-colored clothing can help people detect and remove ticks before they bite.
“Powassan disease is caused by a virus and is not treatable with antibiotics, so preventing tick bites is crucial,” Lynfield said.