Tick-borne Powassan virus can kill — but you probably won't get it

Health officials and media outlets are warning of a new and deadly disease borne by ticks — Powassan virus.  But despite the scary headlines, odds of contracting the illness are extremely low.

In fact, only 1 in 53.57 million people nationwide contracted the virus last year.

Powassan is billed as being worse than Lyme disease.  Both illnesses can be traced to the little, blood-sucking, black-legged deer tick.

"Severe tick-born Powassan virus has experts worried about possible spread" cautioned one NBC station. WNCN called the virus "deadly." A headline on WCBV in Boston stated "Tick bite puts Cape Cod man in coma with swollen brain."

But before you panic, consider the odds.

In 2015, only six Americans became infected with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  That's roughly 1 in 53.57 million people.

In the last decade, there have been a total of 75 cases diagnosed.

The disease is mostly found in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions of the United States.

The Powassan virus can cause fevers, headaches, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. There are long-term neurologic problems to worry about, and a bad case can require hospitalization for respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain, according to the CDC.

Pennsylvania led the nation in confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2015, with 7,351.  New Jersey clocked in with 3,932 confirmed cases, the CDC reports.  But Pennsylvania reported only one case of Powassan in the last decade, and New Jersey reported three, the CDC said.

Still, no good tick bite is a good tick bite. And this year is expected to be an especially bad one for ticks, thanks to an explosion of acorns and mice. 

Experts advise avoiding areas with high grass, applying insect repellents to bare skin, checking for ticks after you return from outdoors, and removing them immediately before they have a chance to bite. Check pets for ticks as well.