Beware – New tick-borne disease is worse than Lyme
A new study finds a tick-borne disease known as Borrelia miyamotoi is now infecting people across the Northeast, and in some cases the symptoms are so extreme that people have gone to the hospital.
The study, carried out by the lab IMUGEN, Inc., examined the blood samples of thousands of patients at emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and primary care offices in New England, and the findings suggest the number of cases of Borrelia miyamotoi are on the rise.
Borrelia miyamotoi is a bacteria that is distantly related to the one that causes Lyme disease. Like Lyme, it is transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick, according to Shereen Semple, epidemiologist with the New Jersey Department of Health.
"Symptoms of infection with Borrelia miyamotoi may include fever, headache, chills and muscle aches," Semple said. "Some symptoms may be relapsing and may be more severe, and may even require hospitalization."
Semple said with this particular disease, patients rarely see a rash, as is more common with Lyme disease.
"People should avoid exposure to ticks whenever possible," she said.
Unlike Lyme disease, Borrelia miyamotoi is not a reportable health condition in New Jersey, so Semple said it is unclear how many cases may happen here every year.
"We do have the deer tick in New Jersey, and that is the tick that has been implicated in potentially transmitting Borrelia miyamotoi," she said.
So what's the best way to avoid the deer tick?
"Examples of precaution include using bug repellent with DEET when outdoors, keeping exposed skin covered whenever possible, and wearing light-colored clothing so ticks are easier to spot," Semple said. "It's also important to avoid tick habitat(s) like dense vegetation, leaf litter, and staying in the center of trails when hiking in the woods."
Regular tick checks for you and your pets are important, Semple added.
"That means performing a tick check as soon as you come in from outdoors, including showering as soon as possible, and promptly removing any ticks," she said.
According to Semple, the tick must be attached for at least 24 hours before it can transmit bacteria.
"Similar to Lyme disease, Borrelia miyamotoi can be treated with antibiotics," she said.
More than 3,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in New Jersey every year.