Tick-borne Illness in Vermont: Urgency Noted

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Written by Alexis Chesney MS, ND, Lac for the Brattleboro Reformer July 31, 2015.

Vermont had the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the country in 2013! The 2014 statistics are not in yet across the country. Taking on first place emphasizes the urgency of proper education regarding tick bite prevention as well as diagnosis and treatment.

Lyme Disease- 2014 Vermont Map showing incidence rate for all counties.At last, in 2014, a preliminary study in Bennington showed that more than 50% of ticks were infected with Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferi), Anaplasma or both. This is our first real look at how many ticks are infected in Vermont; other states have had these statistics for years. Click on the image to see larger map.

What Causes Lyme Disease and Other Tick-borne Illnesses?

Borrelia burgdorferi

Bull's Eye Rash associated with tick bitesBorrelia burgdorferi is the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. It is a preventable infectious disease transmitted through a deer tick bite. Less than half of patients with Lyme disease recall a deer tick bite. Fewer than half of patients with Lyme disease recall a "bull's eye" rash (image on right), which may appear three to 30 days after the tick bite.

The following symptoms may develop up to 30 days after the bite: flu-like symptoms, joint pain or swelling, muscle pain, numbness or tingling, facial palsy.

Anaplasmosis

Anaplasmosis, which is caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum, is another deer tick-borne illness that may cause fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain or cough. Vermont is within the top nine states in the country for highest Anaplasmosis incidence.

Babesiosis

Babesiosis is also becoming more prevalent. Named after the Hungarian pathologist Victor Babes, Babesia is also transmitted by a deer (or black-legged) tick. Babesia is a protozoa that infects red blood cells in order to reproduce in the human body. There are 110 species. It can also be transmitted by blood transfusion as there is no testing available for donor screening, or from mother to child.

Some symptoms caused by Babesia are similar to those caused by Lyme disease: fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and joint pain. There is a classic Babesia presentation that includes excessive sweating, heart palpitations, air hunger (difficulty breathing without exertion), unexplained cough and chest pain. Symptoms can appear within one week or after several months from the tick bite.

Babesia can be life-threatening to people who do not have a spleen, to the elderly, to those with liver or kidney disease and to those who are immunocompromised. As mentioned above, there is no accurate screening test for Babesia. We do not know the Vermont tick infection rate of Babesia.

Tick Disease Prevention Tips

Prevention is the key to avoiding Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis or Babesiosis.

  • Remember: ticks are active over 28 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Avoid areas that are wooded or bushy with high grass, and leaf litter.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants that are light colored. Tuck pants into socks.
  • Conduct tick checks every night: remember your back, back of legs, groin, under arms and head.
  • Place clothes in the dryer for 15 minutes to kill ticks.
  • Check pets regularly for ticks.
  • Create a tick-free area in your yard:
    • Create dry non-wooded areas, as ticks thrive in wet wooded areas. Clear tall grass and leaves. Keep wood in dry areas. Prevent deer from entering yard. Use deer-resistant plants or Dial soap.

Best Ways to Use Tick Repellant

  • Use Tick Shield, a non-toxic tick repellent made of cedar essential oil
  • Use permethrin spray for clothing, which kills ticks on contact

How to Remove a Tick

Early tick removal reduces the risk of infection.

  • Use tweezers to grasp the mouthpart of the tick close to the skin. Tick twisters or a tick key are more efficient than using tweezers.
  • Do not grasp or squeeze the body of the tick, as this may force the organisms carried by the tick into the person.
  • Pull the tick very firmly and straight out.
  • Do not use Vaseline, alcohol or burn the tick.
  • Watch for symptoms: fatigue, headache, chills, fever, muscle/joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, Erythema Migrans (bull's eye rash) over the next 30 days.
  • Contact your health care provider if you cannot remove the tick and for treatment after a tick bite.

Homeopathy for Tick Bite First Aid

Remember: Homeopathic first aid DOES NOT replace proper treatment of a tick bite. If bitten, immediately call your Lyme literate health care provider.

  • Tick Bite
    • Ledum 1M
    • 3 pellets under your tongue 3 times daily, for 3 days.
  • "Bull's Eye" Rash
    • Apis 30C
    • 3 pellets under your tongue 3 times daily, for 3 days.

What You Can do if Bitten by a Tick

Deer TickGet the tick tested. If you get a tick bite you may save the tick for testing by putting a wet cotton ball in a container with the tick. Send ticks to UMASS Amherst to be tested for Lyme disease and other tick-born illnesses. Go to www.tickreport.com for further instructions.

Help the VT Dept of Health. In an effort to help the Vermont Department of Health in their data collection regarding ticks and tick-borne illness, you may report tick findings at: https://apps.health.vermont.gov/gis/vttracking/ticktracker/2015/

Call a Lyme literate health care provider. It is recommended that you call a Lyme literate health care provider if you have been bitten by a tick, find a rash around the tick bite, find a "bull's eye" rash on your body, or if you experience unexplainable intermittent fevers, fatigue, malaise, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, or facial paralysis. It is important to treat Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis as soon as possible for the best recovery.

Be Tick Smart

Vermont was #1 in the nation for Lyme disease. Take notice of this wake-up call regarding the Lyme disease epidemic and other tick-borne emerging illnesses. Take precautions and remember to conduct a full body check for ticks every night before bed!



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