Lyme disease not the only tick-borne illness to worry about

Powassan virus causes death or permanent disability in 60% of cases

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – They are known for spreading Lyme disease, but ticks can also spread another serious illness. It is called Powassan virus, and it affects the brain.

At UMass Amherst, they test ticks from all over the country for different diseases. While Lyme disease is more common, they also test for Powassan. Dr. Stephen Rich, director of the Laboratory of Medical Zoology explained for 22News the danger that this disease poses.

“Powassan may be one of those things where lots of people get bitten by ticks and exposed to that virus, but maybe a small number of people actually get sick. Unfortunately, when they do get sick, it is a very critical situation with encephalitis; swelling of the brain,” Rich said.

Rich told 22News that one of the ticks they tested Thursday tested positive for Powassan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were eight cases of Powassan in Massachusetts from 2006 to 2015. Sixty percent of cases lead to death or permanent disability.

It is important to check yourself and your pets for ticks, and if you find one, you should remove it with tweezers. You can send any ticks you find to UMass for testing. For more information on tick-borne illnesses, and how to send ticks to the lab, visit

Map shows states in which Powassan virus cases have been identified.