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When it comes to tick-borne illness, Zane Saul, MD, chief of Infectious Diseases at Bridgeport Hospital, reminds area residents to keep an eye out for ticks, even in cooler weather.


 

Clock keeps ticking on tick-borne illnesses

If spending time in the great outdoors is part of your fall plans, don’t forget to check for ticks. While often considered a summertime nuisance, ticks can transmit diseases to animals and people even in the cooler months of the year.

“We generally see the most tick-borne infections (TBI) in the summer months,” said Zane Saul, MD, chief of Infectious Diseases at Bridgeport Hospital “In mid-July, the nymph form of the tick is the most prevalent, and this is the most likely time for transmission – but they are still around, even in November. Unless we get a really cold winter, they don’t really die off, so we see some cases into the winter as well.”

At Bridgeport Hospital, Dr. Saul said the 2022 summer season was particularly busy. “This summer, we saw many more cases of Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis – two types of tick-borne illness, which caused several people to be hospitalized.”

Lyme disease

The incidence of TBIs in the United States has risen significantly within the past decade. Here in Connecticut and most of the Northeast, the summer and early fall are prime times for deer ticks to spread Lyme disease, a bacterial infection.

“Lyme and other TBIs cause typical flu-like symptoms,” Dr. Saul said. “Many people have fever, body aches and malaise. Unfortunately, less than half get the classic bullseye rash. Symptoms are very non-specific and sometimes overlap with other diseases like COVID-19 and summer virus.”

While symptoms can begin three to 30 days after a tick bite, it can be a long time before some people develop any symptoms at all. “If left untreated, symptoms can disappear only to possibly return in a later stage, affecting the joints, heart or nervous system,” he explained.

Powassan virus

A rare but potentially dangerous tick-borne illness is the Powassan virus, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick. The virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after the tick first attaches. While most people infected with Powassan virus likely experience no symptoms or a mild flu-like illness, some may develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system.

Several cases of Powassan virus been reported in Connecticut in 2022, but Dr. Saul said he has not seen a case in this area yet.

Treatment, prevention, attention

“Antibiotics are the mainstay for treating all tick-borne infections,” Dr. Saul said. “Oral antibiotics are used in the early stages; intravenous antibiotics are used in later stages.”

While there is no known treatment or vaccine for Powassan virus, most TBIs can be treated and cured in a short amount of time when diagnosed early.

To prevent tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and Powassan virus, you need to protect yourself from tick bites. Dr. Saul recommends using tick repellent with DEET when going out into wooded areas. Other preventive measures include wearing protective clothing to cover your arms and legs and tucking pant legs into socks. Also, avoid high-risk areas, like tall grasses and brush.

“There is also a tick prophylaxis available for adults with two antibiotic pills taken one time only after removal of an embedded deer tick,” Dr. Saul noted, “but there is no effective prevention for tick bites in children.”

As tick bites can be hard to find, Dr. Saul recommends frequent tick checks of children at bath time, as well as a check of adults in hard-to-see areas, like the back and scalp.

If you suspect you have been bitten by a tick, or develop symptoms, the clock may be ticking. “If you have an unexplained fever lasting more than 48 to 72 hours or a suspicious rash that may represent a bullseye, contact your doctor,” he said.