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Minnesota records first case of tick-borne virus

A woman in her 60s from northern Minnesota has died from a brain infection due to Powassan (POW) virus.

This is the first death in the state attributed to the disease. One other likely POW case has been identified this year in Minnesota, in an Anoka County man in his 60s who was hospitalized with a brain infection and is now recovering at home. POW virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick.

Both 2011 cases became ill in May after spending time outdoors and noticing tick bites. The fatal case was likely exposed to ticks near her home. The case from Anoka County might have been exposed near his home or at a cabin in northern Minnesota.

Health officials say this death serves as a reminder of the vital importance of preventing tick bites.

"Although Powassan cases are rarely identified, it is a severe disease which is fatal in about 10 percent of cases nationwide, and survivors may have long-term neurological problems" said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. "Powassan disease is caused by a virus and is not treatable with antibiotics."

In Minnesota, POW virus can be transmitted by the blacklegged tick (also called the deer tick), which can also carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. When a tick infected with POW virus attaches to a person, it might take only minutes of tick attachment for the virus to be transmitted.

To prevent tick-borne diseases, always use tick repellents containing DEET or permethrin when spending time in tick habitat. Also, wear long pants and light-colored clothing to help detect and remove ticks before they've had time to bite. To remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp it by its head close to the skin and pull it out gently and steadily.

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