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Rare But Dangerous Tick-Borne Diseases Doubled In Mass. Last Year

Surely you know that Lyme Disease is endemic all across Massachusetts. Surely you didn’t need any further incentive to guard against tick bites — to wear insect repellent, do tick checks after being outdoors, and more. But just in case, I’m passing along some worrisome statistics I just learned from Dr. Catherine Brown, the state public health veterinarian, about the rise of two other tick-borne diseases. They’re both far rarer than Lyme Disease but don’t relax; they’re also both potentially fatal.

They’re called babesiosis and anaplasmosis, and confirmed cases of both effectively doubled from the 2010 numbers to 2011. They still remain extremely uncommon. Even after the doubling, there were 191 confirmed Massachusetts cases of babesiosis in 2011, and 140 confirmed cases of anaplasmosis. But when numbers rise so dramatically, Dr. Brown said, “It makes us notice.”

Some pointers: Unlike Lyme Disease, which crops up across the whole state, these two rarer diseases are more geographically confined, Dr. Brown said. Anaplasmosis tends to appear on the Cape and islands, in the Metro West area and in southern Berkshire County. Babesiosis, similarly, tends to strike on the Cape and islands and in Metro West. Cases spike in summertime, and tend to occur in older people.

babesiosis map

As with Lyme Disease, symptoms tend to include fever and fatigue, but Lyme symptoms may be mild, whereas with the two rarer diseases, Dr. Brown said, “you actually get much sicker and know something is seriously wrong.” She has no exact numbers on deaths, but there have been “a few reports of fatalities,” she said.

For more information, check the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, including this fact sheet on babesioisis and this overview of tick-borne diseases. Continue reading