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‘Not Just Lyme Disease Anymore’: 7 New Reasons To Fear Ticks This Summer

Michael Vitelli of Marshfield Hills, Mass., a fit and active father of four who was recently laid low by the tick-borne disease anaplasmosis. (Courtesy)

Michael Vitelli of Marshfield Hills, Mass., a fit and active father of four who was recently laid low by the tickborne disease anaplasmosis. (Courtesy)

A father of four boys, Michael Vitelli of Marshfield Hills, Mass., lives a high-energy, outdoor and active life when he’s not at work. He fishes, he hikes, he golfs, he can even boast a running streak of 642 days in a row.

But last month, on what would have been day 643 of running, a tick brought him to an excruciating halt.

After feeling achey for a few days, Vitelli suddenly got too sick to get out of bed, as if with a summer flu — fever, sweats and chills, headache. Then he got even sicker. His test results looked dire: protein and bile in his urine;  liver function gone haywire; platelets, red and white blood cells down so low that his chart looked like he had leukemia, a doctor told him.

The diagnosis, after three days in the hospital: anaplasmosis, an infection borne by the same deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. It’s up dramatically in Massachusetts: About 600 confirmed and probable cases statewide last year, compared to closer to just 100 in 2010.

Never heard of it? Neither had Vitelli. Naturally, he’d heard of Lyme, which has spread across much of the country in recent decades and now infects an estimated 300,000 Americans a year at least, mainly in New England and the Midwest.

But like most people, he didn’t know that ticks can carry a whole array of nasty bugs — with obscure names like babesiosis and Borrelia miyamotoi — and that, though much less common, they, too, are on the rise, following more slowly behind the inexorable march of Lyme disease.

(Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

(Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

In worst-case scenarios, some of these infections can kill people, usually those who are old or have an underlying condition. Deaths are very rare; what’s not rare is for patients to get much more acutely, severely ill than is typical for Lyme disease.

“Those little ticks,” Vitelli says with the voice of bitter experience. “They can really wreak havoc with the body.”

It’s peak season for Lyme disease right now, and for these other infections as well. If the risk of Lyme hasn’t been enough to prompt you to take the recommended measures against ticks — repellent, tick checks — perhaps awareness of these rising new risks will add impetus. Public health officials also call for vigilance about persistent summer fevers with no other obvious explanation, and for greater awareness that they can be caused by bugs other than Lyme.

“If you live in an area where there’s Lyme disease, you should be aware of these other agents,” says Dr. Peter Krause, a tickborne disease expert at the Yale School of Public Health. “And that’s true throughout the United States.”

It’s also true for doctors. “If you’re thinking about Lyme disease, you should think about these other diseases, too,” says Dr. Larry Madoff, director of epidemiology and immunization at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, who recently helped treat a case of anaplasmosis in central Massachusetts. “And even if you don’t see Lyme disease, if you have a patient who reports tick exposures or lives in an area where there’s a high prevalence of these diseases, you should think about these as well. And they are treatable,” with antibiotics.

At the risk of being accused of scaremongering, here are seven new reasons to fear, loathe and avoid ticks more than ever this summer, based on news about these more acute infections:

1. Pronounced me-ya-moe-toe-eye: 

Researchers keep finding new tickborne bugs, like Borrelia miyamotoi, which was first reported in 2013 and causes flu-like feverish illnesses so severe that a recent study found that about one-quarter of patients who tested positive for it had landed in the hospital.

About 14 percent of patients who had it also tested positive for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The findings suggest that Borrelia miyamotoi “may not be a rare infection in the northeastern United States,” the authors write.

2. No Relaxing In August Continue reading