When Outdoors, Protect Against Tickborne Infections Lyme Disease and Babesiosis
Getting outdoors when the weather gets warmer can be beneficial to both mental and physical health, but one of the biggest drawbacks is the bugs. In the summer months of July and August, one has to be particularly aware of ticks, as warmer weather brings about an increase in some of the diseases they carry including Lyme disease and Babesiosis.
Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease and Babesiosis Are Similar, Leading to Misdiagnosis
Most people are aware of Lyme disease, an inflammatory disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi spread through the bite of an infected tick. The first case of Lyme disease was reported in the United States in 1975. It is most common during late spring, summer, and early fall when people are more likely to be doing outdoor activities such as gardening, hunting, or hiking.
Symptoms of early Lyme disease are similar to that of the flu, including chills, fever, headache, muscle pain and stiff neck. There may also be a “bulls-eye” rash or a slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite. A blood test can be done to check for antibodies to the B.burgdorferi bacteria. If untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the brain, heart, and joints with symptoms such as abnormal muscle movement, joint swelling, heart palpitations, and other strange and unusual behavior.
Another common tickborne infection that people are less familiar with is known as babesiosis, which actually was identified in 1969 before Lyme disease. This disease is caused by microscopic parasites (Babesia microti) that infect red blood cells. As with Lyme disease, it occurs mainly during the warm summer months in parts of New England, New York State, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
B. microti is typically spread by the young nymph stage of the tick which is about the size of a poppy seed. Because it is so small, infected people might not even recall being bitten by a deer tick nymph.
The symptoms of Babesia infection are similar to Lyme disease – fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue. Babesiosis can be serious because it can cause hemolytic anemia, or destruction of the red blood cells, particularly in people who are immunocompromised. Other complications can include low and unstable blood pressure, low platelet count, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), malfunction of vital organs or death.
Unfortunately, babesiosis is often misdiagnosed because there is no tell-tale rash as there typically is with Lyme disease. To diagnose babesia infection, the blood must be examined under the microscope to detect the parasites inside the red blood cells.
To prevent tick bites, avoid direct contact with ticks by avoiding wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of trails while hiking. Use a repellent that contains 20% or more DEET on exposed skin.
After being outdoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are on your body. Parents should closely examine children, even in and around the ears, in belly buttons, behind knees and under arms, and in the hair. Be sure to closely examine all gear that has been with you, including clothing and backpacks. Clothing can be tumbled in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.