The number of recognized tick-borne diseases has been increasing over the past two decades, and the geographic distribution of ticks is expanding into new areas of the United States. Every year tens of thousands of people in the US are diagnosed with a tick-borne disease, and the rate of these cases has been increasing steadily for several years. Despite the modern commonality of tick-borne diseases, diagnosing tick-borne diseases can be difficult, as symptoms often emerge long after a disease is contracted, and emerging symptoms are often mild and vague, leading to frequent misdiagnoses. Several tick-borne diseases that were exceptionally rare a decade ago, are now becoming common across the US. One of these tick-borne diseases, babesiosis, only infected residents of Connecticut a decade ago, but today more than 1,700 people in well over a dozen states ranging from California to Maine have contracted babesiosis from infected ticks.
Babesiosis was discovered in 1991, and in between 2000 and 2008 the disease spread from 30 to 85 towns in Connecticut. Today, babesiosis is endemic in most northeastern states and a few states in the upper midwest. Babesiosis is often compared to malaria, as both diseases destroy red blood cells, have similar symptoms and both have high fatality rates. Babesiosis infection can be asymptomatic or severe and the most common symptoms associated with the disease include fever, fatigue, chills, headache, sweats and muscle pain. Between 5 and 10 percent of patients hospitalized for the disease die, and 20 percent of those who became infected through blood-transfusions face a 20 percent chance of dying, but if the disease is promptly diagnosed, antibiotics can rid infected humans of the disease. Several new forms of tick-borne encephalitis have also been discovered over the past decade in the northeast. For example, two well known tick-borne encephalitis diseases, deer tick virus and powassan, were not considered a significant threat to public health during the early 2000s, but today, these diseases infect massive amounts of people all over the US.
Do you fear tick bites while outdoors?