New tick-borne disease found in the United States
Reader William Barnett of Bethlehem, Pa., sent the following note, which caused me to do some research on a topic I have been meaning to investigate:
"Recently in the Mixed Bag section of your newspaper, there was a very short article about a recently discovered new disease with symptoms similar to Lyme disease being carried by ticks in the northeastern United
States" he wrote.
"I gave that issue to a friend and no longer have access to it. I would like to read some follow-up on that article. I mentioned it to a few people and it has piqued the interest in all of us."
Turns out the new tick-borne illness Barnett refers to has not been seen yet in Pennsylvania, but seems to be headed this way. It's a new infection caused by tick bites that is extremely similar to Lyme disease and has been found in 18 people in southern New England and upstate New York.
Recently the disease was confirmed in humans for the first time by researchers from Yale University who published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The report suggests that this new sickness could be infecting more than 4,300 Americans a year with flu-like symptoms and relapsing fevers. Luckily, one dosage of antibiotics seems capable of eliminating the disease.
The researchers used blood tests to find evidence of infection by a bacterium that is present in deer ticks and is similar to the one that produces Lyme disease.
In 21 percent of the 14 patients, positive outcomes were identified for the new infection with unexplained summertime "febrile" illness, which means having or showing the symptoms of a fever.
In the Yale study, out of 273 patients diagnosed with Lyme disease or suspected to have Lyme disease, 3 percent had positive results of the new infection, while just one percent of 583 healthy adults living in Lyme disease areas tested positive.
All participants in the research were from the Northeast, however the researchers think there may be more cases in other parts of the country where Lyme disease is common, because the bacterium has been found in approximately 2 percent of all ticks that carry Lyme disease.
Those "other parts of the country" could include areas of Pennsylvania, where deer ticks are alarmingly numerous and Lyme disease is common.
"This is the first time we have found an infectious organism carried by ticks before we have recognized the disease in humans," said Durland Fish, professor of epidemiology at Yale's School of Public Health and the study's senior author.
"We usually discover a new disease during an epidemic and then try to figure out what is causing it."
The signs of this new illness include headache, stiff neck, muscle aches and fatigue. It does not seem to be as severe and debilitating as Lyme disease, although — since it has just been discovered — scientists
aren’t sure yet about how damaging the disease might be if left untreated over a long period.
The infection also comes with a rare but distinct rash apparent in about 10 percent of cases, the researchers noted. Commonly present with the infection is a fever that occurs then disappears, and reappears several days later.