Tick-Borne Diseases on the Rise, Some Rapidly Transmitted With No Current Treatment Options
Diseases often aren’t transmitted until a tick has remained attached to a person for at least several hours, but recent research is identifying new diseases, such as Heartland virus, that might be transmissible in a much shorter time frame, sometimes as quickly as 15 minutes.
Hunters, gardeners, people out walking or playing with the dogs and more often find themselves encountering areas that could be defined as “tick habitat.” If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, there are three certainties in life (to expand upon Benjamin Franklin): death, taxes and ticks.
Many tick forecasts for 2022 are showing it might be an exceptionally bad. Worse still, tick diseases are increasing in scope and severity.
A press release announcing $114 million in funding for National Institutes of Health Lyme and tick-borne disease research, noted the exploding rate of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in the last two decades. “In 2003, Lyme disease infected around 30,000 Americans. The latest estimates show that nearly half a million Americans are diagnosed with Lyme annually. Other tick-borne diseases are also rising – in Maine, for example, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis have increased several-fold.” A recent survey in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, showed that some 50% of adult deer ticks and 25% of deer tick nymphs collected there tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Also on the rise is a relatively new Deer Tick Virus, a Powassan virus that can cause encephalitis or meningitis and has minimal effective treatments. The rare but increasing Heartland virus – currently untreatable - has been found in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee, according to the CDC.
Virginia also has prodigious tick populations, with prevalent Lyme disease and Alpha Gal, the virus that causes allergy to red meat.
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Brian Anderson, a Michigan resident, has built a business around tick prevention. Billed as “The Tick Terminator,” he works with myriad outdoor enthusiasts to help them stay tick free. His recommendation is always the same: treat shoes, clothes and gear with Duration 10% permethrin. He calls it, “the most versatile and cost-effective tick and insect repellent available.”
Most commercial permethrin sprays come premixed in relatively low doses, for about six weeks or six launderings. There are several other options commercially available, including concentrated solutions designed for farm use. Concentrated permethrin requires utmost care in handling.
Anderson says Duration 10% is the only permethrin concentrate EPA-approved for clothes that gives the user control over how long it lasts. Users can mix the concentrate according to their personal needs, such as a small amount to last three weeks and three launderings or a large amount to last 24 weeks and 24 launderings. This flexibility can cut permethrin costs by up to 50% or more, Anderson said.
People out working or casually enjoying the outdoors can do a few things to prevent tick bites. First, tuck pants into socks and wear light-colored pants to easily spot ticks. Apply a solution with 25-35% DEET on your skin and try to stay out of areas with vegetation.
Avoiding vegetation is a near impossibility for most turkey hunters. Tucking into the base of a tree or using vegetation to partially hide you from a turkey’s keen eyes is often part of the scenario. That’s why you must treat your clothing – socks, pants, shirts, jackets - with permethrin. Permethrin not only repels ticks, it kills them.
Diseases often aren’t transmitted until a tick has remained attached to a person for at least several hours, but recent research is identifying new diseases, such as Heartland virus, that might be transmissible in a much shorter timeframe, sometimes as quickly as 15 minutes.
Obviously, the best option is to avoid being bitten. If a tick attaches, carefully remove it using a tick removal tool or tweezers without applying excessive pressure that crushes the tick or causes the mouth to break off inside you. Apply constant, gentle backward pressure until the tick releases.
Save the tick in a clean Ziploc bag in the freezer for possible testing. Get medical attention immediately if any symptoms such as fever, a rash at the site of the bite, aching joints or muscles or chill appear.
Anderson notes that most physicians will treat symptoms with an antibiotic rather than waiting a lengthy time for test results. Always err on the side of caution after a tick bite. Prompt action can save you a lifetime of misery.
Dogs in Danger, Too
Our canine friends are also susceptible to tick-borne diseases. Dogs also get Lyme diseases, but increased risk this year, according to Veterinary Practice News, is forecast for diseases such as ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, spread through bites from infected lone star and blacklegged ticks. Symptoms can include fever, lethargy, poor appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, abnormal bruising and bleeding, chronic eye inflammation, neurological abnormalities, occasional lameness, vomiting and diarrhea.
Below is Anderson's detailed Safety Reference Guide on ticks and tick-borne disease prevention. You can also find more detailed information, especially about Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic at the Virginia Department of Health website.