County leads in multiple diseases spread by ticks
GHENT–Ticks are hungry and we’re on the menu.
Columbia County is number one in the world not just for the prevalence of Lyme disease, but for all tick-borne diseases, according to Dr. Ananthakrishnan Ramani, an internist and Columbia Memorial Hospital’s infectious disease specialist.
While Lyme disease remains the most well known and widespread, other tick-transmitted diseases are on the rise, such as, Babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. And all of them have gotten a head-start this year.
The new crop of tick-borne disease cases don’t usually start appearing around here until June or July, but Columbia County Public Health Director Nancy Winch told The Columbia Paper this week that many cases are being seen now. The reason may lie under the leaves that fell from the trees last autumn.
Ticks spend the winter dormant under leaves, and though many of the blood-sucking arachnids would normally succumb to winter’s frozen grip, temperatures this past winter let them off easy, Ms. Winch explained.
Add to the mix the record-breaking high temperatures of March that spurred people to get outdoors for some early yard clean-up or just for a walk, making them “interactive” with the ticks already out there, climbing up blades of grass looking for food. As people and pets walked through the grass, ticks grabbed on for the ride, eventually finding a tasty hunk of skin to bite into.
Before a tick spreads a disease to a human there is a mammal involved, said Dr. Ramani. “The tick bites a deer or a mouse, then the tick bites a human,” who then contracts Lyme, anaplasmosis or Ehrlichiosis. “Two for the price of one and sometimes Babesiosis, which makes it three for the price of one,” the doctor said.
Dr. Ramani is a member of a local Lyme Disease Task Force, along with Director Winch, a representative of Cooperative Extension and a local veterinarian. The group meets every six weeks to talk about the issues, hearing different perspectives and reviewing the latest statistics.
Anaplasmosis, formerly called human granulocytic Ehrlichiosis and included in the Ehrlichiosis category on charts and reports until recently, is spread by deer ticks and has the same symptoms as Ehrlichiosis: fever, muscle aches, weakness, headache, nausea and possible fatality. But the Ehrlichiosis is spread by Lone Star ticks. The two illnesses are caused by different bacteria.
According to a “quick guide” information table provided by Dr. Ramani, Lyme disease symptoms can include the “bull’s eye” or “target” rash, fatigue, myalgia and joint pain. Within weeks to years–arthritis, meningitis, facial palsy or heart abnormalities, which are rare, may develop.
Babesiosis is a malaria-like illness with fever, chills, myalgia, fatigue and hemolytic anemia. Severe illness may occur especially in persons with a history of splenectomy or immune suppression and it can be fatal, according to the guide.
Latest figures on the New York State Department of Health website released in April 2011, but dated 2009, list the Lyme disease rates per 100,000 populations as follows: Columbia County 792.4, Rensselaer County 285.8 and Duchess County 304.
Ms. Winch said in 2011 there were 237 new cases of Lyme in Columbia County and 67 in the Ehrlichiosis category, 58 of which were anaplasmosis. Last year, 5 cases of Babesiosis were recorded here, the most ever for a single year, she said.
The anaplasmosis number for 2011 translates to a 92.5 rate in Columbia County, compared to 17.4 in Rensselaer County, 18.4 in Greene County and 20.1 in Duchess County. In other Capital Region counties the rates are lower, 5.0 in Albany County, .5 in Saratoga County and 0 in Schoharie and Warren counties, according to state Health Department figures.
Noting the “very infectious” nature of ticks in the county, Ms. Winch said part of the reason for greater numbers of tick-borne diseases here may have something to do with the “great job” local physicians here are doing at testing and identifying the diseases.
Admittedly, “the ticks are terrible in Columbia County,” said Ms. Winch, but there’s no way to control the tick population; “you can’t spray,” she said.
Whether this year will prove to be record-breaker in terms of tick-borne disease cases remains to be seen, said Ms. Winch, “but we’re aware of the situation and continue to monitor it.”
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TICK BITE PREVENTION
The Centers for Disease Control offers the following tips for preventing tick bites:
While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months, April through September, when ticks are most active.
Avoid Direct Contact with Ticks
*Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
*Walk in the center of trails.
Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin
*Use repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
*Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
*Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be found at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/.External Web Site Icon
Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body
*Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
*Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
*Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.