Public health officials have been trying to get the word out to Massachusetts residents to about several diseases that can be caused by ticks. Most people are aware that we are in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, but the two other diseases may not be as familiar. One is called HGA, or human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and the other is called babesiosis.
While tick-borne illnesses occur all year round, they are more prevalent during the period from May through September, with June and July being the peak months.
In our area, the tick most closely associated with all three of these diseases is Ixodes scapularis, more commonly known as the black-legged tick, or deer tick. However, the brown dog tick has also been associated with some of these infectious agents, so any tick bite should raise concern, and symptoms such as listed below should be reported to your health care provider when you mention that you were bitten:
How long before symptoms usually appear: three to 30 days.
Common symptoms: Rash (erythema migrans, or bullseye rash, but not always), flu-like symptoms (such as fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, aches, stiff neck), fatigue, swollen glands.
How long before symptoms usually appear: one to eight weeks.
Common symptoms: Sometimes none, but can have fever, chills, headache, aches (muscles & joints), nausea, vomiting, dark urine, abdominal pain
How long before symptoms usually appear: seven to 14 days
Common symptoms: Fever, headache (that may not get better with over-the-counter medication), chills, muscle ache, fatigue. Less common: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough and joint aches.
Tick-borne illnesses are most common in men and in adults older age 50. All three illnesses can be treated with medication, but timely treatment is important, because those who don't receive treatment can suffer significant impairment or lasting consequences.
The elderly, people with no spleen, and those who are immune-compromised may suffer life-threatening complication from babesiosis.
About 60 people of people with untreated Lyme disease will develop arthritis in their knees, elbows, or wrists which can move from joint to joint and become chronic. Neurological impairment can occur as well, ranging from mild to severe.
Consequences of anaplasmosis may include difficulty breathing, hemorrhage, renal failure or neurological problems.
The best prevention against any of these diseases is to avoid contact with ticks. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health suggests:
Use tick repellent that contains DEET or permethrin. Note DEET should not be used on children younger than 2 months of age, and permethrin should be used only on clothing, but not skin.
Stay on trails when hiking and away from edges of brushy habitat.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, and light-colored pants, tucked in to socks or boots.
Frequently check yourself (warm areas such as neck, armpits, groin, etc.) and pets.
Use tick prevention products on your pets as advised by your veterinarian. If your pet is sensitive to these pesticides, report it to the veterinarian and consider an herbal alternative. Never use more than one flea and tick product at a time, and never use any product on a cat unless it specifically says that it is for use on cats or kittens.
If you do find a tick on you that is attached, remove it by grasping it with fine tweezers. Grasp it close to your skin, and pull straight up and out. Do not twist the tick or you may leave the mouth parts under the skin. After removal, clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water, rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub.
Occasionally, people are bitten and do not realize it because the engorged tick drops off the skin after getting its blood meal. But, if you own pets or have been in tick=infested areas, reporting the symptoms above to your health care provider may save you a lot of grief.
If you would like to know more about ticks, or tick identification, visit: http://www.aldf.com/deerTickEcology.shtml. For more information on tick-borne illnesses, visit the web site of the Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has fact sheets available on all three of these diseases and on tick repellents. Contact it at 1-(888) 658-2850 or online at http://www.mass.gov/dph.
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann's local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.