The New York State Department of Health reported an additional confirmed case of Powassan virus, this one in Dutchess County. This recently-confirmed case and three cases in Saratoga County from this past summer are the only confirmed cases of Powassan in New York State this year. Powassan virus is a rare viral disease that can cause symptoms ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to life-threatening encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

With its abdomen engorged with a host blood meal, this image depicts a lateral, or side view of a female blacklegged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis/CDC

The disease remains extremely rare in New York State, with only 27 confirmed cases since 2000.

This has prompted health officials to remind New Yorkers of the importance of protecting themselves against ticks and tick-borne illnesses as they participate in fall outdoor activities. Ticks remain active until the temperature drops below 40 or 45 degrees, so it’s important to take precautions and check yourself for ticks even as the weather cools down.

“This should not deter you from partaking in all the outdoor activities that our beautiful state has to offer this fall, as long as you remain vigilant,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “While you are outside taking advantage of hiking, hunting and leaf-peeping, or even raking leaves, it is important to take the time to protect yourself and your family against ticks and tick-borne illnesses.”

“In Dutchess County, we have learned through decades of experience that several preventive measures can work together to offer the greatest protection against tick-borne diseases,” said Dr. Anil K. Vaidian, Commissioner of the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health. “It is important for residents to plan ahead before outdoor activities, be mindful of exposure while outdoors, and to remain vigilant in checking for ticks afterward for the best chance of prevention against tick-borne diseases.”

LISTEN: Powassan virus: The spread is inevitable

Best practices to protect yourself from ticks and tick-borne illness include:

  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily, as well as enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
  • Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors.
  • Consider using insect repellent.
  • Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after going indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be on you.
  • Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets), and remove ticks promptly.