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Lyme disease, black-legged ticks on the rise

Category: Lyme Disease

Lyme disease blood testing has become a must-have for New Yorkers, as new research revealed that certain areas of the state have high populations of black-legged ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of tick-borne illnesses has risen dramatically in recent years, with 35,000 new cases of Lyme disease reported annually in the U.S.

A study from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies shows that black-legged ticks in the Northeast spread more than just Lyme disease - they are also infecting people with other illnesses, such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Powassan encephalitis. The report examined encephalitis closely, and noted that the virus, which is spread by ticks, is caused by deer tick virus and Powassan virus. It causes long-term neurological damage in many of its survivors. Encephalitis can also be fatal, with a 10 to 15 percent mortality rate.

"We've seen a rise in this rare but serious illness in parts of New York State that are hotspots for Lyme disease, said Rick Ostfeld, author of the study. "And we suspected it was tied to an increase in black-legged ticks carrying deer tick virus, particularly on the east side of the Hudson River."

Study finds high populations of black-legged ticks
As well as looking at data collected by New York State Department of Health surveys, the researchers examined ticks surrounding the river for a five-year assessment. They dragged tick cloths near potential tick habitats, such as animal burrows, in addition to collecting ticks from small animals and birds. Though black-legged ticks accounted for most of the specimens, the researchers studied more than 13,500 ticks from seven different species.

The report included counties Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Sullivan, Ulster, Orange and Rockland - areas east of the Hudson that had the highest concentrations of adult ticks carrying viruses. And to add to the issue, Encephalitis can be transmitted in a matter of minutes, unlike Lyme disease and other tick-borne viruses, which are transferred over hours.

"Our findings are consistent with deer tick virus infection rates in people revealed in clinical tests by the New York State Department of Health," said Laura Kramer, coauthor of the study. "Of fourteen individuals testing seropositive for deer tick virus, 10 were residents of Westchester, Putnam, or Dutchess counties."

Preventative measures for Powassan encephalitis
The report concluded with a call for physicians to look for Powassan encephalitis symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of the virus include headache, fatigue, fever and aches - basic flu-like symptoms. Encephalitis is an inflammation in the brain as a result of viral infections. Powassan is one of the more rare strains of the virus, but can be life-threatening. Encephalitis often goes unnoticed because of its similarity to the flu.

The clinic recommends wearing covering clothing when in a wooded area with tall grasses and shrubs - areas where ticks are common. In order to treat severe cases of encephalitis, it's important to detect it early on. If the symptoms become apparent after being bitten by a tick or having spent time in a wooded area, one should see a physician immediately.

While Powassen encephalitis can be deadly, it is also rare. Lyme disease is the most common illness transmitted by ticks, according to the Mayo Clinic. The sourced noted that treatment in the early stages of the disease will make a complete recovery more likely, but patients who do not seek treatment soon after contracting Lyme disease may face complications.

Lyme disease blood tests are the most accurate means of determining whether an infection is present.

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