An Uptick in Ticks | NIH Health News

June 2023

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Don’t let ticks make you sick

Warm weather can make you want to go outside and go for a walk in the woods, picnic, garden, etc. But small mites also appear when the temperature rises. And they can enjoy the fun in warm weather.

Infected tick bites are responsible for about half a million new cases each year in the United States. And these numbers are growing. Lyme disease is the most common. It accounts for more than 80% of tick-borne diseases nationwide. Other diseases associated with ticks include babesiosis, tularemia, and anaplasmosis.

Symptoms of these infections can range from mild rashes and discomfort to long-term health problems. Some tick bites have been linked to severe allergies to red meat.

The good news, however, is that you can take steps to keep ticks from making you sick. And NIH-supported scientists are looking for better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent tick-related diseases.

Risks from ticks

How likely you are to get sick from an infected tick largely depends on where you live. Different types of ticks live in different parts of the country. Each type can transmit different disease-causing germs. Nationally, more than 17 human diseases are known to be caused by at least nine types of ticks. And all these mites are moving into new areas.

Dr Erol Fikrig, an expert in tick-related diseases at Yale University, said: “As the climate warms and changes, it is likely that we will see more tick-borne diseases in many areas. more locations. He and his colleagues are working to better understand the relationship between ticks, the germs they carry, and the animals they infect.

Ticks seem easy to avoid. They cannot fly or jump. But they can detect heat, breathing, and other signals from warm-blooded creatures. Ticks need blood to grow and lay eggs. In search of food, they often cling to the tips of grass or leaves with their hind legs. They wave their front paws if they sense that you or another potential victim is nearby. If you touch a tick, it can climb up and look for a patch of skin to bite.

When a tick burrows into the skin and begins to suck blood, any germs it carries can enter its victim. But it can take several hours for the tick to pick a spot and start feeding.

“If you catch and remove the flea early and it hasn’t drained all of its blood, your chances of getting an infection are greatly reduced,” says Fikrig. If you don’t remove a tick, it can stay for several days. When slowly filling with blood, the flea can swell to 10 times or more.

All tick-borne illnesses can cause fever. Other common symptoms include headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. Some diseases can cause a distinctive rash. For example, Lyme disease often causes a widespread rash that looks like scarlet. Ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can also cause a rash.

Unusual meat allergy

Most tick-related illnesses are caused by infections. But more than a decade ago, NIH-supported researchers discovered that some tick bites can lead to food allergies. This condition is called alpha-gal syndrome (AGS). The allergy is caused by a sugar molecule called alpha-gal found in red meat.

“This includes beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit and even products from these animals, for example,” says Dr. Scott Commins, an allergist at the University of North Carolina. like milk and buttermilk. He worked with the team that identified the link between red meat allergy and lone star flea bites.

“AGS can cause hives, itching, swelling, trouble breathing, or an upset stomach after eating red meat,” Commins says. AGS can sometimes lead to a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if not treated immediately. Therefore, those affected must avoid eating red meat.

Most food allergies cause symptoms a few minutes after eating. But AGS symptoms tend to appear three to six hours after eating red meat. This delayed response can make it difficult for you to recognize red meat as the cause. Scientists still don’t understand how flea bites can lead to this allergy.

AGS is relatively rare, but its numbers are increasing as the lone asterisk spreads to new regions. Today, this tick is found widely from Texas to New England.

“A positive note is that there is pretty good evidence that over time, allergies can go away in some people,” Commins says. “We think avoiding tick bites is key.” A simple blood test can tell if a person still has AGS.

Prevent tick-borne diseases

Although tick-related illnesses are becoming more common, you can still have fun outdoors if you take some precautions.

“You don’t have to be afraid of ticks,” said Dr Sam Telford, a tick researcher at Tufts University. “Depending on where you live, most tick bites don’t necessarily carry disease. And even if they do, if you get rid of ticks right away—by bathing, feeling for ticks, or looking for them—you will greatly reduce your risk.”

To provide even more protection, the NIH supports several lines of research aimed at preventing tick-related disease. Telford and colleagues are focusing on stopping the spread of tick-borne infections in the wild. They are testing different ways to prevent disease-causing germs from infecting the small creatures ticks love to bite, such as mice.

“The idea is that if you target mice, they will no longer transmit disease to ticks. And then there will probably be fewer infected ticks in the environment that infect humans,” explains Telford.

Fikrig and colleagues are working to create a new vaccine that prevents fleas from sticking to the skin long enough to transmit disease-causing germs. Their experimental vaccine has been shown to prevent Lyme disease in animals. They are experimenting to see if this method can prevent infections caused by ticks.

Fikrig notes that many tick-related diseases can be effectively treated if caught early. “If you’ve been in an area with a lot of ticks and you have a fever, you’ve probably been bitten by a tick without realizing it,” he said. “You should go to the doctor for advice. Early medical care is always best.”


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