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Risks on the Rise: Ticks Spread More than Lyme Disease and the Infections Are Tough to Diagnose and Treat
CHICAGO, June 20, 2017—In the war on tick-borne diseases, overconfidence is putting humans at a disadvantage, according to osteopathic physicians, who stress the need to prevent bites to avoid life-threatening illnesses.
A recent online survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, found that while 84 percent of Americans understand the threats posed by Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, 71 percent think it is unlikely they will contract any of those illnesses in their lifetime.
More concerning, only 43 percent of Americans report thorough and regular application of DEET-based products or other repellants when outdoors in areas where ticks may be present, despite increases in potentially fatal illnesses including Powassan virus and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which caused the recent death of an Indiana toddler. Experts warn that the early symptoms of tick-borne illnesses make them difficult to diagnose and delaying treatment can be fatal in rare cases.
“Part of the challenge for parents is the non-specific nature of the symptoms, particularly in children. A child with a fever could have any number of relatively benign conditions, but a child with a fever who’s been playing in the woods might have Powassan or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which if not diagnosed and treated early, can be fatal, said Rob Danoff, DO, a family medicine physician and program director of the Family Medicine/Emergency Medicine residency programs at Aria Jefferson Health in Philadelphia.
“Ticks can be as small as poppy seeds, the bites don’t hurt and the symptoms are often initially vague and may be thought to be from other causes, so we need to send a strong message about the importance of prevention,” Dr. Danoff noted.
Understanding the Biggest Threat
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a tick-borne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. Blacklegged ticks and the rarer western blacklegged ticks, which carry the Lyme bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, are now found in half of all U.S. counties, though transmission remains highest in the Northeast and Upper Midwest states. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the annual number of new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. currently exceeds 300,000.
When outdoors, you should be wary of ticks and their highly infectious bites, which can cause Lyme disease—the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S., according to the CDC.
While not all ticks carry disease, some may spread multiple infections in a single bite. Other tick-borne diseases include babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella and the rare but serious Powassan, which health experts say is on the upswing this spring.
Tips to Prevent Bites
While the type of tick-borne disease varies by region, protective practices are standard and should be implemented regularly.
About the American Osteopathic Association
The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents more than 129,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; and is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools. Visit DoctorsThatDO.org to learn more about osteopathic medicine.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of AOA from May 31-June 2, 2017 among 2,110 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jeff Brennan.