Steep Increase In Tick Borne Disease

Lonnie Taylor
Enterprise Staff
This could be a question heard all over Benton County this year. A few weeks ago my co-worker and friend Carrie Rieman used this expression while receiving a call advising her she had Alpha-Gal. I used the same expression last week after receiving a phone call informing me I had tularemia. So what do the alpha gal and tularemia coworkers have in common? Both have tick related diseases, both supposedly rare.
In response to her disease, Carrie developed a meat allergy, had an anaphylactic reaction and needed to be rushed to the ER. Luckily Jimmy White was available. (Since I also ended up in the ER, the office story is we may need to keep his number on speed dial)
Unfortunately for all of us, tick borne diseases are on the rise and are no laughing matter. Carrie can no longer eat any type of mammalian meat, only poultry or fish. Alpha Gal Syndrome, or AGS, is a severe allergy to mammal products, including meat. Alpha-gal isn’t your typical hay fever-like allergy. It’s a severe, delayed-reaction immune response, which means it hits hours after someone who suffers from the allergy eats meat. She must carry an EPI pen and avoid all mammalian products, which can be a chore. This includes cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, vitamin supplements, medications, and jello.
Alpha Gal Syndrome has been linked to the bite of a Lone Star Tick.
Even a decade ago, only small populations of lone star ticks were found in the northeastern U.S. As shifts in temperatures and humidity levels change across the country, many types of ticks, which thrive in warm, humid weather, are able to expand their ranges. For example, the EPA now uses Lyme disease, which is transmitted by blacklegged ticks, as an indicator to track where the country is warming. The spread of lone stars made it all the way up through Maine, imparting severe red meat allergies on unsuspecting carnivores. As lone stars expand into new communities this summer, the ticks are poised to catch people off guard.
Ticks are only second to mosquitoes as vectors for human disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report showing illnesses from ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes are on the rise. Disease cases in the U.S. more than tripled between 2004 and 2016, and the report found that we’re ill-equipped to tackle the growing problem. The CDC report says seven new tick-borne infections have been recorded since 2004.
I was not in a race with Carrie to see who has the rarest form of tick borne disease but I do win. Tularemia can be difficult to diagnose since it is a rare disease, (under 175 cases in the entire US last year, most in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma) and the symptoms can be mistaken for other, more common, illnesses. Symptoms vary depending on the route of infection. Although tularemia can be life-threatening, most infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
It is a disease of animals and humans caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Rabbits, hares, and rodents are especially susceptible and often die in large numbers during outbreaks. Although tularemia is also called rabbit fever, domestic rabbits do not carry this disease and are considered safe.
Humans can become infected through several routes, including:
Tick and deer fly bites
Skin contact with infected animals
Ingestion of contaminated water
Inhalation of contaminated aerosols or agricultural dusts
I was almost asymptomatic in the beginning. I did have a tick bite that was red (no bull’s-eye) but did not think much about it. My husband insisted I go to the doctor; who ran a blood panel and discovered the tularemia. A few days later the symptoms hit hard. I am extremely weak, all my joints hurt, and I have a major headache. I will be on antibiotics for 14 days and can’t go out into the sun, but I will recover.
Other more well known forms of tick bite illness include:
Rocky mountain spotted fever. Early signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include a severe headache and high fever. A few days later, a rash usually appears on the wrists and ankles. Rocky Mountain spotted fever responds well to prompt treatment with antibiotics. Although many people become ill within the first week after infection, signs and symptoms may not appear for up to 14 days. Initial signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever often are nonspecific and can mimic those of other illnesses:
Large swaths of the eastern U.S. are already dealing with an epidemic of Lyme disease, an illness that can rob you of your short-term memory, your motor functions, and, very rarely, even your life.
Infectious diseases carried by ticks can progress rapidly and may be life-threatening. If available, take the tick along with you to your doctor’s office in case they need it for laboratory identification.
I’m not going to list all the tick prevention methods, easy to find online and you probably know them. I did, but must have become somewhat cavalier when out in the woods. However, Carrie is a townie and still got a tick bite. So stay safe and be aware.