While Lyme disease is predicted to be as perilous as ever this summer, with the CDC estimating 300,000 new cases to present, there is a new tick-borne illness endangering those of us who spend time outdoors. Borrelia miyamotoi is a bacteria carried by an estimated 10 percent of ticks, mostly in the Northwestern region of the United States. Research conducted this spring in the Bay Area, found more ticks carrying this new bacteria than with Lyme. Infected ticks were found not only in the heavily wooded areas associated with Lyme disease, but in grassy areas too. What is making this new bacterial disease confounding is its ability to transmit through familial lines; Lyme disease cannot be passed from mother to child, but Borrelia is transmitted from adult females to their offspring. So even tiny, pin-prick sized baby ticks can bite and infect with the bacterial disease.
The symptoms of a Borrelia miyamotoi infection is similar to that of Lyme disease with whole body aching and severe fatigue, however it lacks the bull’s-eye rash. Sufferers will experience a high fever of around 104 degrees which may break and relapse. Victims may think they are getting better when the fever breaks but left untreated symptoms may morph into a disease that can have neurologic, cardiac and arthritic issues. There is no need for panic, but if you feel ill and test negative for Lyme consider discussing this possibility with your doctor, several rounds of antibiotics may be needed before symptoms subside. While this bacteria has been known to be carried by ticks for some time, transmission to humans has not been previously documented.
Promising research at the University of Rhode Island is ongoing to produce an anti-tick vaccine. While this may not be on the market for several years, the best protection remains to be vigilance; wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors and in the woods if possible, use insect repellant, use tick and flea protection on your pets and talk to your arborist about treatments for your landscape and property for further protection from these insidious vectors.