There are several good reasons to keep ticks off your body. One is that they are creepy and suck your blood. Another is that they can transmit 14 different diseases—not just Lyme disease. A report published online this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine describes the newest tick-borne disease in North America, which is caused by a bacterium known as Borrelia miyamotoi.
The microbe was first identified in Japan in 1995. The first report of it infecting humans came from Russia in 2011. Cases began appearing in the northeastern United States in 2013.
Borrelia miyamotoi is a spiral-shaped bacterium that is related to the one that causes Lyme disease, another tick-borne infection. Infection with Borrelia miyamotoi often causes a recurring fever, as well as headache, muscle aches, and chills. It does not usually cause the “bull’s-eye” rash seen in some people with Lyme disease.
According to the Annals report, nearly one-quarter of people diagnosed with Borrelia miyamotoi disease are so sick they need to be hospitalized. The best therapy so far is the oral antibiotic doxycycline. That’s good news, because doxycycline is also an effective treatment against the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, another tick-borne disease.
On the increase?
Experts aren’t sure how common Borrelia miyamotoi disease is. In the Annals report, lead author Dr. Philip Molloy of Imugen, a clinical laboratory in Norwood, MA, and his colleagues found evidence of the bacterium in 0.8% of the blood samples they tested for possible tick-borne infection. Other tick-borne diseases were two or three times more common than that.
The disease isn’t yet on many doctors’ radar. When they see someone with symptoms that suggest Lyme disease, they may have the person tested for that disease, but the test will come back negative. It’s also likely that some people who develop Borrelia miyamotoi disease never see a doctor, and write it off as the flu.
Prevention is best
Borrelia miyamotoi lives in deer ticks. These small, hard-bodied ticks also spread Lyme disease (which is caused by a related bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi). The best way to avoid getting either of these diseases, or any of the others spread by ticks, is to keep ticks off your body and check yourself for ticks after you’ve been walking through grassy areas, where ticks are likely to live.
The types of ticks and the diseases they cause vary throughout the country. Get familiar with which ones are more likely to be present where you live.
Here are eight tips for protecting yourself from ticks:
Wear light-colored clothing. Light colors make ticks easier to spot, especially the tiny deer ticks.
Tuck your pant legs into your socks. It’s not a flattering look. But tucking your pants into your socks does create a physical barrier against ticks.