Lyme is one of many illnesses you can get from a tick bite, including a rare disease associated with death of a Saratoga man
A Saratoga County man died last month after contracting Powassan virus from a tick. Then, a second Saratoga County resident was hospitalized with the rare disease and a third is suspected of being infected.
According to the state Health Department, the patient with the suspected case was released from medical treatment and both new cases are adult patients exposed to the virus in June, the Times Union reported.
Due to confidentiality little addition information is available but the Health Department has upped its tick surveillance and advises people to take steps to prevent tick-borne diseases.
This is a bad year for ticks, and the death related to Powassan — one of many tick-borne illness being found in people upstate and elsewhere — adds to the concern. Physicians in the Finger Lakes report seeing more patients with tick bites, people are taking precautions, and those ill from bites are talking about it.
Bill Wheeler of South Bristol is being treated for several tick-borne illnesses, as are his wife and daughter. One of those is Lyme disease. According to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme every year, about 1.5 times the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer and six times the number of people diagnosed in the U.S. annually with HIV/AIDS. In addition to Lyme, there are nearly 20 other illnesses related to tick bites that can make you sick.
Five bites, three illnesses
Bill Wheeler didn’t get just one tick bite, but five at different times within the past two years. Only one bite produced the rash often associated with a bite from an infected tick.
Wheeler said he thinks he got the bite with the rash while stacking firewood. The rash promoted his doctor to test him for Lyme disease, a test that came back positive. Unfortunately, that was after Wheeler had suffered numerous symptoms for about a year that are characteristic of Lyme, including fever and joint pain so bad at times he could hardly walk or get in and out of his car. With the prescribed round of antibiotics this spring, Wheeler began to feel a little better — but only the flu-like symptoms diminished. He wasn’t out of the woods.
Wheeler told his local family physician he wanted to see a Lyme specialist, and his doctor agreed. Unable to find a specialist who would take him on in the Rochester area, Wheeler researched and found a Lyme specialist, Dr. Daniel Cameron, a board-certified internist and epidemiologist in Westchester County. Tests there revealed Wheeler had two additional tick-related illnesses: Bartonella and Babesia. Now, in his fourth-month of treatment with antibiotics and an anti-malarial medication due to the babesia, he is on the mend.
Meanwhile, Wheeler’s wife, Wendy, is being treated for Lyme and Bartonella after testing positive, as is their daughter who lives in California and makes trips back to the Finger Lakes. Bill said his daughter told him after she began recovering from Lyme it felt like a “fog lifted.”
How bad are things?
Not all deer ticks are infected. Typically about half of the adult ticks that come in for testing at a University of Massachusetts lab carry the bacteria, and that’s about what the lab is seeing again this year, said Stephen Rich. He runs a project that tests around 10,000 ticks each year sent in by people who were bitten.
U.S. health officials refuse to make predictions about ticks and tick-borne diseases, and say it’s hard to even know how bad things are. There are monitoring projects in some states, or some parts of states, but there’s not any comprehensive data to give a clear picture of what’s happening nationally, according to Rebecca Eisen, a tick expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Concern about deer ticks recently amped up, largely because of a prediction made by Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, north of New York City. Ostfeld, a respected tick researcher, says these tick populations can explode based on a boom-and-bust cycle of acorns and white-footed mice, which ticks like to feed on. He says conditions over the last two years likely account for the boom this year in the Northeast.
But he acknowledges “it’s too early to tell just how bad a year it is.”
Thomas Mather, a University of Rhode Island researcher who’s considered a pro at surveying for ticks, hasn’t seen a jump in the deer-tick variety. Even if these ticks are up this year, a change in conditions ” like a dry heat wave ” could knock the population way down, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Learn about tick-borne diseases and prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/index.html