New Tick Disease on the Rise

There’s a new tick disease that seems to be spreading throughout the northeastern states, and if it follows the path of Lyme disease, it may become prominent everywhere before long.

Borrelia miyamotoi wasn’t even known before 2013, but the number of devastating infections borne by ticks seems to have no end. Researchers call the infection BMD for short, and it is critical to be aware of because almost all cases in a recent study were contracted in July and August, when Lyme disease isn’t as prevalent. That’s because BMD is carried by larval-stage ticks that have been infected by their mothers. Lyme is contracted by ticks at a later stage in life, often from contact with rodents and deer. Larval-stage ticks were not previously thought to carry diseases.

BMD is also important to know about now because if you visit a physician after a tick bite and have severe headache and/or flu-like symptoms, a Lyme test won’t reveal the presence of the disease, which can be even more devastating left untreated than Lyme. Testing for BMD may not reveal its presence until it has been in your body for at least five days.

A case series report was published online in June in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Patients were often very ill, with an acute headache, flu-like symptoms, rash, fever and chills. About a fourth of them ended up in hospitals. They often mimicked having a tick-borne disease called anaplasmosis. There is no specific test for BMD, but it can be detected using polymerase chain reaction techniques looking for the specific DNA of the disease. Researchers in the case studies also used an immune assay to detect the antibody to BMD.

According to the study, doxycycline for two–four weeks is the preferred treatment, partly because it will also attack Lyme and B. burgdorferi tick-borne infections, as well as anaplasmosis. One tick can carry all these diseases and more. Lab tests in the study showed that 14% of patients with BMD also were infected with B. burgdorferi.

Tick bites remind me that I recently had the good fortune to visit Naushon Island, a private retreat near Woods Hole, Ma., and Martha’s Vineyard. It has been privately owned by the Forbes family (not the financial Forbes’s) since 1842. There are about 30 houses on the seven-mile-long island and descendants of John Murray Forbes, now in the 8th generation, can vacation there. Among them is Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Forbes family has decided not to use pesticides on the island (and they are pioneering a remarkably successful use of solar panels to power the island’s houses). Without pesticides, ticks are left to multiply. In a two-hour walk on the island, I removed four from my legs. The Forbes’s are savvy and have learned to coexist with the ticks, but they have a hard and fast rule: If you get a bite, you don’t bother to test for Lyme or anything else. You immediately go on a regime of Doxycycline.  I believe in restraint in the use of antibiotics, but I think the Forbes’s have it right—the Lyme test is problematic and a tick bite deserves far more attention than most people give it.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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