Tickborne Babesiosis Disease is on the Rise in the New England States
By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
"The summer has finally arrived after a relatively cool spring, and New Englanders are out and about soaking up the sun and the warm temperatures," said professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "This is also the first summer since the start of the pandemic where we can walk around mask free in most environments. So, there is certainly cause for celebration. But people spending more time outside and in wooded and grassy settings are concerned about tick bites and the diseases they carry."
"Here in the Northeast, when tick bites are discussed, our first thoughts are Lyme Disease. However, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), another tickborne disease is on the rise in all New England states. That disease is Babesiosis, and it carries quite a wallop for seniors and, on rare occasions, can be deadly."
What is Babesiosis
Babesiosis was originally a New England disease, discovered in 1969 on the island of Nantucket. Since then, it has spread throughout the Northeast and into the states of Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin. According to the CDC report, the most significant increase in cases has been seen in all the New England states.
"Babesiosis is carried by black-legged (deer) ticks and is transmitted through bites. And with the increase in the deer population, more ticks are being carried into residential areas," said Attorney Connelly. "This disease can also be transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants from infected donors and can be passed congenitally. It cannot be passed from person to person, however."
Many people infected with Babesiosis feel fine and exhibit no symptoms, while others exhibit mild flu-like symptoms such as sweating, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, fever, and chills. In some cases, it can lead to hemolytic anemia, in which the red blood cells are destroyed. These conditions can last from several days to several months. In severe cases, blood clots, organ failure, unstable blood pressure, and even death can occur. Symptoms of this disease may take one to nine weeks (in some cases even longer) to appear.
In a report issued by Dr. Daniel Cameron (A nationally recognized leader for his expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses), points out that the number of geriatric cases of this disease is also on the rise. He is especially concerned about co-infections of Babesiosis and Lyme disease, citing research pointing out that co-infection patients are apt to experience more persistent symptoms and are in danger of relapsing illness.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If a tick bite occurs and symptoms appear, a diagnosis is made by a health care provider by looking at a blood sample under a microscope to see if Babesiosis parasites are present in the red blood cells. If so, the sample is then sent to another lab for confirmation.
Most people do not become sick enough to require treatment. However, those who do are usually treated with a combination of the drugs quinine and clindamycin or atovaquone and azithromycin. And as stated earlier, it is possible to have a co-infection of Babesiosis and Lyme disease which requires a specialized treatment regimen.
"Obviously, the best prevention is not to wander into tick-prone areas, but that would surely limit our recreational opportunities, and as stated earlier, the increased deer population means that these animals are wandering in residential neighborhoods and dropping ticks in our backyards," said Attorney Connelly. The CDC offers the following guidelines:
Before You Go Outdoors
Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks. Many people get ticks in their yard or neighborhood.
Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
Use repellant approved by the EPA containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Always follow product instructions. Do not use OLE or PMD products on children under three years old.
Avoid Contact with Ticks. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of the trails.
After You Come Indoors
Check your clothing for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing. Any ticks that are found should be removed. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium water temperatures will not kill ticks.
Examine gear and pets. Ticks can be carried into the home on clothing and pets, then attach themselves to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and daypacks.
Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tickborne diseases. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, which is an excellent opportunity to do a tick check.
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your backyard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
Removing a tick
The video below from the New York State Department of Health offers a step-by-step way of removing ticks.