One of the pests with which Missouri whitetail hunters are well acquainted is the tick. For generations we've dealt with these unpleasant little creatures as they sunk their mouths hungrily into the deer we hunt, the dogs with which we hunt, and even us as hunters. We've gone to great lengths to prevent tick bites and avoid the diseases they can spread. These efforts are important in the past just as they are in the present and will be in the future, especially with yet another tick borne illness making its way around the United States.
Photo: Wellness Junky
Found thus far in the northeast and Great Lakes regions, Powassan (POW) virus disease is becoming a real threat to hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. It is known to exist in two forms spread by two types of tick. The first form, lineage 1 POW virus, is acquired via bite from groundhog ticks, which are also known to bite dogs. The second form, lineage 2 POW virus, is found in deer ticks. Both of these ticks have successfully transmitted the disease to humans within only a few minutes of feeding, which is worrisome in comparison to Lyme's Disease with requires 48 hours of continuous tick feeding to infect a host.
In the past 10 years, only 60 cases of Powassan virus have been seen in humans. With numbers such as this, the presence of the disease may not seem terribly worrisome. The concern over its presence or lack thereof is largely dependent on research and acquiring ticks for testing can prove difficult. Since groundhogs are known to carry and transmit rabies, it can be difficult to gather groundhog ticks for testing due to the risks involved. Even though groundhogs can be trapped, it is an issue to gather ticks from their body without posing a whole other set of risks to researchers. Because of this, there are still many unknowns when it comes to the growing presence of the Powassan virus.
In the even that you are bitten by tick infected by this virus and that tick then transmits the virus to you, expect an onset of symptoms to include weakness, headache, fever, confusion, vomiting, memory loss, and seizures in the short term with possible long-term effects as well. Treatment for brain swelling and respiratory support may be necessary through hospitalization. The virus itself has no actual treatment as of now; supportive care is given but no positive outcome is guaranteed. In fact, 10% of cases have proven fatal.
When out in the field, be it hunting or preparing for hunting season, it is vital to your health to take steps to protect yourself from tick bites now more than ever. Though this disease is in its research infancy, there is still plenty of possibility of unfavorable traits being discovered. It is not yet known what type of impact this virus can or will have on animals, but applying anti-tick products to hunting dogs is wise as a tick that bites them could go on to bite you as well. Also take great care when cleaning deer as ticks begin to depart the body of a dead animal soon after the kill and could easily latch onto you while you are in close proximity cleaning deer.
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The best way to avoid tick bites to wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves. Apply tick repellant and avoid heavy brush and wooded areas whenever possible. At the end of the day, check your body thoroughly for ticks, enlisting someone to help you if needed, and carefully remove any ticks that are found. Should symptoms of illness arise, consult a healthcare provider immediately. This disease is expected to spread and become more common, so take the steps to protect yourself now before it is too late.
What methods of tick prevention do you prefer? Which repellants do you consider to be most effective? Let us know how you stay tick-free in the comments!!