New Tick Virus Reportedly on the Rise in Pennsylvania

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

To all our outdoorsy Outsiders, beware. The “rare but dangerous” deer tick virus is on the rise in Pennsylvania. And the state’s Department of Environmental Protection wants everyone to educate themselves on tick prevention and be able to recognize the early signs of the illness.

Deer Tick Disease, or DTV, first showed up PA in 2011. And cases have been slowly increasing every year since. But this year, officials are seeing the virus at alarmingly high levels.

DTV is a type of Powassan virus, which can be completely symptomless, flu-like, or cause encephalitis and even death. There are currently no medicines or vaccines that treat or prevent the virus.

As mentioned above, many people infected with the illness never show symptoms. But if they do, they’ll experience them one week to one month after a tick bite.

The earliest symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. If the illness worsens, people may become confused, lose coordination, have difficulty speaking, or experience seizures.

In some cases, DTV can cause encephalitis or meningitis.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, around 1 in 10 people who develop a severe case of DVT will die. And half will have long-term health issues like headaches, loss of muscle mass, and memory issues.

Some Areas of Pennsylvania Have Ticks with an 80% Infection Rate

Between 2011 and 2020, PA only recorded 10 cases of the illness. However, thanks to a state-wide tick surveillance program, officials believe numbers could jump this year. And that adds more concern on top of the already growing Lyme Disease fears.

“Lyme disease has been present in all 67 counties for some time. And unfortunately, the prevalence of the very serious Deer Tick Virus appears to be increasing in some tick populations,” Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said in a news release.

While DVT is present in 15 PA counties, Clearfield, Centre, and Wyoming Counties are considered “hot spots” because samples from the area showed “unusually high infection rates.”

The Fisherman’s Paradise public fishing area on Spring Creek in Centre County, Iroquois Trail near Tunkhannock in Wyoming County, and Lawrence Township Recreational Park in Clearfield County had ticks with an infection rate over 80%. Though samples outside those areas dropped to 0.6%.

How to Prevent Deer Tick Virus While Enjoying Pennsylavnia this Summer

While they sound alarming, tick-borne viruses shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the outdoors this spring and summer. Following a few preventative steps can drastically reduce your chances of infection.

Before heading outside, spraying clothing with insect repellants that contain permethrin will help keep ticks at bay. Also, DEET repellents on the skin will do the trick, too.

While walking or hiking in grassy areas, always tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks so the pests don’t have immediate access to your body. Also, steer clear of tall grass and vegetation whenever possible.

Once home, throw your clothes into the washer or dryer on high heat. And check your entire body, including your scalp, ears, and armpits, in a mirror.

If you find a tick, remove it with fine-tipped tweezers while taking care not to leave the head in the bite area. Then disinfect the bite with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.