October 6, 2023
Chase Cook, Acting Director, Office of Communications, 410-767-3536
Maryland Department of Health announces first travel-related case, death due to tickborne illness Powassan
Baltimore, MD — The Maryland Department of Health today announced the first travel-related Powassan virus death in Maryland. The Department confirmed the presence of Powassan, which is spread by the bite of an infected tick, on Sept. 22, with subsequent follow-ups reinforcing that result.
“We are very saddened to report the first death due to the Powassan virus in our state,” said Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman. “Powassan is very rare, and this is the first-ever case recorded in Maryland. The individual contracted the virus in Canada and returned to Maryland afterward. We do not believe that Powassan poses any threat of local transmission in Maryland. As always, we urge everyone to practice good habits when in areas that could have ticks or avoid those areas altogether."
According to the CDC, the Powassan virus is rare and is not transmitted from person to person, except in rare instances by blood transfusion. There are no vaccines to prevent or medicines to treat Powassan virus disease. 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.
The Maryland Department of Health will launch a “Maryland, Get Ticked Off!” campaign next week, to help Marylanders take proactive steps to protect against tick bites. The campaign includes a Tickborne Disease Occupational Toolkit containing health information for people whose job sites and work activities could put them at risk for tick bites, and social media images promoting good tick-monitoring habits.
You can reduce your risk of contact with ticks by avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your own backyard. Check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
Under the arms
In and around the ears
Inside belly button
Back of the knees
In and around the hair
Between the legs
Around the waist
Many people infected with Powassan virus do not have symptoms. For those who have them, initial symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. The Powassan virus can cause severe disease, including infections of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Symptoms of severe disease can include confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, and seizures.
For more information on the Powassan virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Powassan virus information page.
The Maryland Department of Health is dedicated to protecting and improving the health and safety of all Marylanders through disease prevention, access to care, quality management and community engagement.
Follow us at twitter.com/MDHealthDept and at Facebook.com/MDHealthDept.