The Tick-Borne Illness That Is More Serious Than Lyme Disease

If you live in a state where ticks are common, you’re probably well aware of the diseases they may carry. From ones you likely know, such as Lyme disease, to rare ones like the Bourbon virus or Powassan disease, the Centers for Disease Control actually lists 16 different tick-borne illnesses. Right at the top of the list is another rare, but serious, one you may not have heard of: It’s called anaplasmosis, and according to the CDC, cases have increased steadily since it became reportable in 1999.

In 2000, there were only 348 cases of anaplasmosis, but 1,761 cases were reported in 2010. And Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told “Today” that the wet and warm weather that has persisted through this fall is also contributing to a rise in the disease this year. The CDC received reports of 3,656 cases in 2015, though there are no figures yet for 2017.

And while those statistics barely put a dent in the number of the cases of Lyme disease, which is estimated to be 300,000 per year, anaplasmosis is fatal in some cases, even in healthy people. It can also be harder to know you have because most tick bites are painless and anaplasmosis rarely has the characteristic red rash that often accompanies Lyme disease.  Symptoms of anaplasmosis include fever, headache, muscle pain, malaise, chills, nausea, abdominal pain cough and confusion—but they can take one to two weeks to appear.

hospital photo
Getty Images | David McNew

Anaplasmosis can also be hard to treat, as tests based on the detection of antibodies will often appear negative for the first seven to 10 days of illness.

“There are several aspects of anaplasmosis that make it challenging for healthcare providers to diagnose and treat,” the CDC says. “The symptoms vary from patient to patient and can be difficult to distinguish from other diseases. Treatment is more likely to be effective if started early in the course of disease.”

The disease is transmitted to humans most often from the black-legged tick and the Western black-legged tick, the same ticks responsible for Lyme disease. That means that where Lyme disease is, anaplasmosis is likely there, too. Cases are most frequently reported in the upper Midwest and Northeast United States.

Centers for Disease Control

To avoid ticks in the first place, the CDC recommends using a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin, and always walk in the center of trails, avoiding wooded and brushy areas. But even if you believe you have taken proper precautions, if you live in an area known for ticks, it is important to check yourself and your children frequently if you’ve been outdoors or are cuddling with pets that have been outside. Use a mirror to check your entire body, especially areas that were exposed to the outdoors. Ticks like to hide, so be sure to check your hair, armpits or other places they might find cozy.

If you do find a tick on your body or your child’s body, there is a correct way to remove them. Grab fine-tipped tweezers and some alcohol to submerge the tick in once it’s removed, and follow these instructions.