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TICK-TRANSMITTED DISEASES ARE HERE TO STAY

By Chris Williams on May 18, 2017.

There seems to be no end of new tick diseases in the Northeast. Why us? Lyme, Connecticut was ground zero for Lyme disease 40 years ago. Lyme has never slowed down here, and has spread from the Northeast to the Mid Atlantic and Upper Midwest states. Each year in the U.S. there are 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease, although experts at the Centers for Disease Control believe the number of actual cases is closer to 300,000.

Although far less common than Lyme disease, people in the Northeast also have to be concerned about other newly-emerging diseases associated with a tick bite. Health officials in Massachusetts report increases in these tick diseases as well: babesiosis, anaplasmosis, miyamotoi, and now, Powassan virus.

POWASSAN VIRUS IS BECOMING MORE COMMON IN THE NORTHEAST

One tick-transmitted disease that you are certain to hear more about is Powassan virus. Although there have been only about 70 cases of this virus reported in the last 10 years in the U.S., all have been in the Northeast (MA = 8, NH = 1, NY=16) and the Upper Midwest (MN = 20, WI=16). We can assume that many cases of Powassan go unreported since most people have no symptoms and others have early symptoms that mimic the aches, fever, and headache of the flu. A small percentage become severely ill. In this group, 15% will die and 50% of those who survive will have long-term neurological damage.

In the Northeast, Powassan virus is transmitted mainly by the blacklegged (deer) tick, the same tick that transmits Lyme disease. As with Lyme, deer and small rodents are secondary hosts for the disease. A midsummer survey on Cape Cod last year found that almost 11% of the ticks examined carried the Powassan virus. Experts have been finding more deer that are infected with this virus so they expect the incidence in humans to go up as well.

YOU ARE NOT DEFENSELESS AGAINST TICKS

You can be bitten by a tick at almost any time of year, but ticks are most active in our region during warmer weather, from May through November. Ticks cling to vegetation, waiting for an animal to pass by. Ticks are most common in brushy, wooded, or grassy habitats and in areas where their secondary hosts such as deer, mice, and chipmunks are found. In yards, the borderline where lawn meets woods or shrubs is where most people and pets pick up ticks.

Since there are no vaccines against tick diseases and no cure if you get one, it’s up to you to protect yourself. The only way to prevent tick-transmitted diseases is:

Photo Credit : Fairfax County

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