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Several Massachusetts ticks test positive for Powassan virus after Connecticut death

Ticks test positive for Powassan virus in Massachusetts
Ticks test positive for Powassan virus in Massachusetts 00:26

AMHERST - A tick testing company says the deadly Powassan virus has been detected in "several" Massachusetts ticks recently, following the death of an elderly Connecticut woman from an infection.

The woman in her 90s from New London County was the second confirmed Powassan case in that state this year, and the first death.

"Several ticks from Massachusetts have tested positive for this virus in the last three weeks through our lab," the Amherst-based TickReport posted to social media Thursday. "Stay alert for ticks, and save any biters in case testing is needed."  

The Powassan positive ticks were found in Newton, Carlisle and Mattapoisett, the company told WBZ-TV.

There have been 16 Powassan cases in Massachusetts over the past decade, according to the state's Department of Public Health.

The Connecticut woman had a tick removed two weeks before she started experiencing symptoms in early May.

"The patient was admitted to a local hospital with fever, altered mental status, headache, chills, rigors, chest pain and nausea," Connecticut's Department of Public Health said. "The patient's condition worsened, and she became unresponsive over the next two weeks."

A Connecticut man in his 50s got sick from Powassan in March and had to be hospitalized with a central nervous system disease, but later recovered.

Powassan is spread by the tiny black-legged deer ticks. Most people who are exposed to it likely won't get sick, but some can get severely ill with meningitis. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, speech difficulties and seizures. About 10% of people who get severely sick from Powassan die. 

Tips to avoid ticks. CBS Boston Graphic

To avoid tick bites, experts recommend using DEET repellent, wearing long pants and shirts outside, staying on trails when hiking, and showering and checking for ticks when back indoors. 

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