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Ticks Pose Serious Health Problems

Kimberly Love

Ticks are frightening little blood-suckers. They attack silently and harbor various dangerous bacteria that they acquire from deer and other wildlife whose blood they drink. Ticks are not insects. They’re related to spiders and mites in the arachnid family. In their nymph stage, they are barely visible. At that point, they are called seed ticks or chiggers. Even though they’re tiny, their bites can be debilitating. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the United States are suffering from mysterious diseases that are hard to diagnose. Some of them are fatal.

Lyme Disease

Ticks are the only known transmitter of Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are actually 10 times more people with Lyme disease than were thought to be infected. The CDC says that 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease per year in the U.S. Dr. Paul Mead, from the CDC’s Lyme disease program, says that routine monitoring only reveals part of the picture. The actual number of people who have Lyme disease is much higher. Symptoms range from headache, fever, fatigue and rash to encephalitis and meningitis. As bad as Lyme disease is, ticks carry even worse pathogens.

Other Tick-Borne Illnesses

Every year, it seems that ticks are credited with carrying a new pathogen. These include the following.

• Heartland virus, which causes fever and liver abnormalities
• Babeiosis, which has malaria-like symptoms and has grown by 20 times in the Hudson River Valley
• Powassan disease, which kills 10 percent of its victims and causes severe, chronic neurological damage for another 50 percent
• Rocky Mountain fever, which can also be fatal

Mammalian Meat Allergy

Another recent development is a condition that makes people allergic to the meat of mammals, including beef, lamb, pork, venison and rabbit. The condition is also referred to as delayed onset meat allergy because it takes up to six hours for the allergy to manifest after the meat has been eaten. Sometimes, there is no reaction to the meat, but other times the allergy causes anaphylactic shock and severe hives. The lone star tick is the carrier of this disease. Its bite triggers a violent reaction to sugar found in red meat.

Frequently, patients have no idea that they’ve been bitten by a tick. They may not realize that a tick bite could be the cause of their illness. Some of the tick’s bacteria cause symptoms that resemble Lyme disease, but they are actually not the same disease. When the patient is treated for Lyme disease, they remain ill because the wrong bacterium was attacked.

Tick populations are on the rise due to milder climates. The only way to avoid them is to stay out of woods or pastures with high grass. Some insect repellents with DEET may have a minor impact, but ticks are insidious. Seed ticks have a way to get past clothing and insecticides. If you’ve been bitten by one or more ticks, you need to seek treatment as soon as possible by your primary care physician or an allergist.

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