It is tick season in many parts of the country right now, and the blood-sucking parasite is not just a nuisance, it can also pass along potentially fatal diseases like Lyme disease and lesser know babesiosis.
The exact same tiny black-legged deer tick that can transmit Lyme disease is also responsible for a rare, but fast growing and perhaps more dangerous disease called babesiosis. Babesiosis, which infects and destroys red blood cells, can be fatal 10 percent to 20 percent of the time in people with already weakened immune systems.
"People who lack a spleen, people who have cancer, people who have HIV, people who are immunosuppressed, on immunosuppressive drugs [are most vulnerable]," said Dr. Peter Krause, of Hartford, Conn.
The disease has been seen most commonly in parts of the Northeast and upper Midwest and usually peaks during the warm months from April to September, when ticks are most prevalent.
Like Lyme disease, the tick has to have dug into the skin and fed for hours before it can transmit babesiosis. Unlike Lyme disease, babesiosis is easy to miss since it does not leave a tell-tale skin rash like most forms of Lyme disease.
If caught early, babesiosis is easily treated. Symptoms for the otherwise healthy are limited to chills and head and body aches. But if it is ignored or unnoticed by those with immune problems, the disease can be fatal.
5 Ways to Prevent Tick-Borne Diseases
Prevent Tick Bites: Use a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin or picaridin, wear light-colored protective clothing and tuck your pant legs into your socks.
Check for Ticks: Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks after going outside in tick-prone areas. Be especially careful in wooded or bushy areas with high grass. The most common areas where ticks are found are under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in the hair.
Wash Off Ticks: After coming indoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible to wash off any loosely attached ticks, and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
Remove the Tick: The CDC recommends you use this process to remove ticks once they have attached themselves to your skin: "Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water."
Follow-up: If a rash or fever develops within weeks of removing a tick, immediately see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
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