January 22, 2018

Health Dept: Ticks out in force through Thanksgiving

Observer courtesy photo Between 2013 and 2016, state researchers collected and tested more than 2,000 ticks. Sixty percent tested positive for at least one disease.

Observer courtesy photo
Between 2013 and 2016, state researchers collected and tested more than 2,000 ticks. Sixty percent tested positive for at least one disease.

Tickborne disease infections on the rise

Ticks are back for one more meal before winter, and health officials warn this means a high risk to Vermonters of tickborne disease.

Anaplasmosis — a disease spread by the same type of tick that transmits Lyme disease, babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi and Powassan virus — has been on the rise. According to the Vermont Department of Health, the number of cases has increased from three in 2010 to 201 in 2016. More than one-third of Vermonters reported to have anaplasmosis were sick enough to be hospitalized, the health department reports.

Bradley Tompkins, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the health department, said that between now and Thanksgiving, as adult ticks come out to feed before winter sets in, people should take extra care to protect themselves from bites.

“We are very concerned about the rate of anaplasmosis that we are seeing all over Vermont, and especially in the southern part of the state,” said Tompkins. “Even though it’s only October, we have already exceeded last year’s case count.”

The health department has been working with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and Lyndon State College to study the prevalence of disease in the state’s blacklegged tick population. Between 2013 and 2016, more than 2,000 ticks were collected and tested. According to Tompkins, 60 percent of the ticks tested positive for at least one disease.

“These numbers mean it’s even more important to be on your guard,” Tompkins said. “It’s easy to think of ticks as a summer concern, but they are out in force right now. If you’ll be one of the many Vermonters enjoying the outdoors — hiking, doing yard work, or out hunting, especially deer, grouse and hare hunters who spend a lot of time pushing through thick brush — make sure you know how to avoid tick bites.”

Recommendations include:

Avoid areas where ticks live.

Use EPA-registered tick repellent.

Cover up to keep ticks off your body.

Don’t let ticks hitchhike inside on your clothing.

Check your whole body for ticks.

Remove the tick as soon as you can.

Keep an eye out for symptoms of tickborne illness.

Symptoms may include fever, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue or nausea. Not all people with Lyme disease report a rash. Symptoms may begin as soon as three days after a tick bite, but can appear as long as 30 days after.

Contact your health care provider if you do get symptoms. Tell them about recent outdoor activities and any tick bites you may recall.

Go to healthvermont.gov/BeTickSmart for more information about avoiding tick bites and tickborne diseases.

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