Beyond Lyme Disease- the Importance of Tick Safety


Healthy Living – June 20, 2017
Amy Movius, MD – Eastern Maine Medical Center
In my previous Healthy Living Segment, the focus was on Lyme disease prevention.  It is a topic that becomes increasingly relevant for Mainers as the prevalence of this bacterial disease continues to rise.  This year, the tick population was anticipated to be especially large and if the number of insects sighted just in my own household is any indication, this prediction is living up to the expectations.

Though Lyme disease is the most common infection transmitted by ticks in our states, it is not the only one – not by a long shot.  Unfortunately there are several other tick-borne infections, and a single tick can transmit multiple infections in the same bite, giving Mainers more than enough reason to take tick awareness seriously.
  1.  Anaplasmosis is another bacterial infection transmitted to humans by infected deer ticks.  It can cause very mild to severe of fatal (1%) disease.  Symptoms usually happen within 1-2 weeks of tick bite.  As with Lyme disease, early antibiotic treatment is effective.
  2. Babesiosis is a parasite infection that can be transmitted by ticks.  It can also cause mild to serious disease that resembles malaria.  It can persist in the bloodstream for months – so it can also be spread in blood transfusions.  Symptoms can begin a week or so after tick exposure and it can usually be treated with a combination of antimicrobials that are different from those used for Lyme disease or Anaplasmosis.  This means getting the right treatment for those infections does NOT protect you from Babesiosis.
  3. Powassan Encephalitis is a viral infection transmitted by multiple types of ticks.  The symptoms can come on within days of sustaining a tick bite.  The federal CDC reports up to a 10% fatality.  There is no specific treatment but hospitalization with aggressive supportive treatment can be lifesaving.  It has been thankfully very rare in Maine up to this point, but the Maine CDC has already reported two cases this year (both were hospitalized and survived).
As frightening as this all sounds, some simple good habits can go a long way to keeping you and your family safe, by preventing tick bites in the first place.  The No Ticks 4 ME campaign is the state wide prevention campaign and includes:
  1.  Use caution in tick infested areas (wooded, bushy, and tall grass)
  2. Wear protective clothing (long pants/sleeves, light colors)
  3. Use an EPA approved repellent (DEET or Picardin, Permethrin for clothes, include pets)
  4. Perform daily tick checks (people and pets, a lint roller can help)

Removing any tick with a “tick spoon” or tweezers, bathing after coming inside for the day, promptly washing outdoor clothes in hot water and/or running in hot dryer at least 10 minutes can also decrease your exposure.  Making these habits a routine - like brushing your teeth – will help you have a healthy and fun summer.