Hunters Beware: Tick Diseases on the Rise

Hunters Beware: Tick Diseases on the Rise
Hunters Beware: Tick Diseases on the Rise
It's no secret that hunters have to watch out for ticks. But with changing weather patterns, it appears that the threat is getting more prevalent and, in some cases, worse. Here's a quick roundup of what's been happening lately.

In the blood supply

How bad is the problem of ticks and disease? A recent study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that a deer tick-borne parasite that causes malaria-like symptoms was in the blood supply and has been transmitted by infusions.

The disease, called babesiosis, causes the typical array of flu-like symptoms, and usually occurs a week or two after a tick bite. According to the CDC, it mainly occurs in parts of the Northeast and upper Midwest, and usually peaks during the summer.

So far scientists have found 159 cases of babesiosis that happened by transfusion. That's over a 20-year period, between 1979 and 2009, in 19 states.
No official word was given about whether other tick-borne diseases can be similarly transmitted, but the CDC asked blood donors to try to avoid tick bites.

Lyme disease up in Indiana, Maine Island has had enough

Recently a study showed that Lyme disease increased 82 percent over a five-year period in Indiana. Sounds bad, but that's just 62 cases in 2009 (latest data), up from 34 in 2005.

No one's certain why the increase has happened – could be anything from more people knowing about the disease to more infected ticks – but deer are the vectors.

Timothy Gibb, an entomologist with Purdue University, told the Journal and Courier newspaper that deer ticks are mostly likely being moved from the northern part of the state south and east on the backs of deer, whose population is increasing.

In case there's any doubt of the direct correlation between deer, deer ticks and Lyme disease, consider this ideal test case: An island. In this case, the island is the town of Isleboro, Maine, which recently voted to kill 400 of the 500 deer on the island – a reduction from about 50 per square mile to 10 per square mile.

Tick on a penny (Minn. Dept of Health photo)

Why? About 70 of the 600 year-round residents have contracted Lyme disease (20 were diagnosed this year) with at least 20 more suspected cases treated. That qualifies it as an epidemic for the island. The situation also may qualify as the first time guns and/or arrows will be used to stop a disease epidemic.

Rare tick disease causes death in Minn.

Heavy spring rains put Minnesota awash in water, ideal conditions for ticks. One unfortunate casualty of that was a northern Minnesota woman who died this summer from a rare tick-borne disease that causes a brain infection.

The woman, in her 60s, was one of two people in the state this year to contract what's called Powassan virus. The other victim was a man, also in his 60s, who was hospitalized after visiting his northern Minnesota cabin.

Powassan cases are fatal 10 percent of the time, and because it's a virus can't be treated by an antibiotic. Symptoms show one to five weeks after a tick bite, and can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and memory loss. Survivors can have long-term neurological problems.

Powassan virus is also spread by deer ticks, which historically have been more common in Wisconsin and middle Minnesota than in northern Minnesota. But Dr. Johan Bakken, an infectious disease specialist in Duluth, Minn., told the Duluth News Tribune that “deer ticks are migrating north – maybe because of the warm climate, maybe because of the mobility of the ultimate host animal for the deer ticks, which is the whitetail deer."

Also see: How to Avoid Tick Bites and Tick Diseases

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