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Exploding tick population -- and illnesses they bring -- worries government

On Wednesday, a congressional advisory committee sounded the alarm on Lyme and other emerging tick-related i...

Posted: Nov 15, 2018 5:33 AM
Updated: Nov 15, 2018 5:33 AM

On Wednesday, a congressional advisory committee sounded the alarm on Lyme and other emerging tick-related illnesses saying they have become "a serious and growing threat to public health." The finding, presented in a report to congress, recommends surveillance, prevention, diagnosis and treatment measures for tackling the problem.

At least 20 known medical conditions can result from tick bites; the most common, Lyme disease, affects an estimated 300,000 Americans each year. Meanwhile, doctors and researchers continue to discover new illnesses linked to the crawling bugs.

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Lyme disease

Tick-borne diseases

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US federal government

The committee, known as the Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, was established under the 21st Century Cures Act (2016) and is tasked with proposing how to rein in this public health problem.

"As tick populations continue to grow and infected ticks expand geographically, the threat to human health intensifies," the working group wrote. To highlight the necessity to act, the report includes stories from patients, including Ruben Lee Sims.

'Untreated patients can lose everything'

Sims, a Vietnam veteran who in 1977 was recognized by the US Air Force as the "top enlisted management analyst of the year," had his life derailed several years later by tick bites.

Unable to diagnose Lyme disease, the military discharged Sims in 1984, labeling him a hypochondriac whose pain was caused by psychological factors. A year later, a non-military doctor also failed to deliver a diagnosis. Though the doctor suspected Lyme disease, Sims had never traveled to New England, where the disease is prevalent, so the tick-borne disease was crossed off the list of possibilities.

"I was misdiagnosed for over three decades and left untreated for Lyme disease," Sims told the report's authors. Today, that's no longer true. Better equipped to diagnose tick-borne disease, the VA has confirmed Sims' pain as a symptom of Lyme disease, and with appropriate treatment, he no longer has symptoms.

"Untreated patients can lose everything, as I did, and become part of the unemployed, under-employed, disabled, and homeless populations," Sims said in the report. These days, he shares his story to help others who may be affected by tick-borne illnesses.

Most Lyme patients who are treated early can fully recover, yet up to 20% experience persistent symptoms -- some disabling. Immediate symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a distinctive ring rash. Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, and shooting pains in the hands or feet are among the longer-term symptoms in patients with chronic illness.

The spread of Lyme disease

Lyme disease cases have doubled since 2004, according to the report. Meanwhile, its geographic prevalence has grown: The number of counties considered to have high incidence of the disease has increased by more than 300% in the northeastern states and by nearly 250% in North Central states, the report states.

"The geographic range of Lyme disease cases has expanded since its first appearance in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975 and has consistently spread northward, southward, and westward," the report says. The working group suggests this spread may be due, at least in part, "to ecological changes taking place in North America since the middle of the 20th century, including habitat and climate changes."

Though less common on the West coast, Lyme disease is an important concern there, as are other diseases that result from tick bites, the report states. Despite hundreds of thousands of estimated cases, only about 35,000 are reported each year to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme disease is transmitted by infected deer ticks. Infected blacklegged ticks, Western blacklegged ticks and lone star ticks also frequently transmit illness in the United States.

Tick-borne diseases can be difficult to diagnose. Tests are not always accurate, and health care providers may not know how to use them. Additionally, patients may have not just one but two or more tick-borne illnesses at the same time.

The Tick-Borne Disease Working Group's recommendations include improving early and accurate diagnosis and treatment, strengthening national surveillance and developing new treatment options for treating acute and persistent illness.

"For decades, tick-borne diseases have increased at an alarming rate," the committee concluded. "The continued spread of ticks, the discovery of new tick-borne pathogens, and the spreading outbreak of human disease is a near certainty."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 68293

Reported Deaths: 1944
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5656118
DeSoto368031
Harrison253036
Madison244368
Rankin229235
Jackson228843
Jones191659
Forrest182056
Washington168942
Lee147941
Lauderdale141192
Neshoba128692
Lamar122614
Oktibbeha112739
Bolivar111834
Warren109533
Lowndes108538
Panola106214
Sunflower105425
Scott100320
Lafayette98317
Copiah95728
Leflore94765
Pike93836
Holmes90049
Grenada84921
Yazoo83312
Lincoln83241
Pontotoc8308
Simpson80330
Monroe80155
Leake79025
Wayne77421
Coahoma77213
Tate73629
Marshall7019
Marion68420
Union64316
Adams62925
Winston62316
Covington62113
George5895
Pearl River55439
Newton54311
Tallahatchie53011
Attala52325
Walthall50120
Chickasaw47019
Noxubee45912
Alcorn4345
Tishomingo4216
Calhoun4209
Prentiss41710
Claiborne40913
Smith40613
Clay39714
Hancock39514
Jasper3889
Itawamba37510
Tippah36713
Tunica3517
Clarke32626
Montgomery3265
Lawrence3228
Yalobusha31510
Humphreys29411
Quitman2701
Carroll26111
Greene25512
Perry2437
Amite2356
Webster23512
Kemper23414
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21113
Stone2055
Sharkey1995
Jefferson1957
Benton1431
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena262
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 99926

Reported Deaths: 1781
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13258244
Mobile10517207
Montgomery6835149
Madison544734
Tuscaloosa423076
Baldwin365125
Unassigned363064
Shelby330936
Marshall318937
Lee270047
Morgan241118
Etowah216232
DeKalb183013
Calhoun180717
Elmore173138
Walker153964
Houston141912
Russell13872
St. Clair135418
Limestone134913
Dallas133123
Franklin128820
Cullman122712
Colbert120716
Lauderdale118919
Autauga117421
Escambia108717
Talladega104814
Jackson10144
Tallapoosa86579
Chambers84438
Dale83525
Clarke82610
Blount8124
Chilton8097
Butler76736
Coffee7646
Covington73720
Pike7087
Marion58026
Barbour5765
Lowndes57324
Marengo56515
Hale47826
Bullock46611
Winston45711
Perry4454
Washington44312
Bibb4425
Wilcox43210
Monroe4215
Pickens4049
Randolph40310
Conecuh39310
Sumter36418
Lawrence3512
Macon33914
Crenshaw3265
Choctaw28712
Cherokee2758
Henry2643
Clay2635
Geneva2631
Greene25211
Lamar2292
Fayette2125
Cleburne1271
Coosa1033
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