6/19/02 - Tick-Borne Diseases

Planning an outdoor adventure this Summer? An unwanted guest may be traveling along with you, ticks, and they could be carrying a dangerous disease, but not Lyme disease. Now there's another tick-borne disease hitting the Heartland.

It's called Ehrlichiosis, similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Bonnie Taylor says, "I started having chills. I was achy and not feeling very well. I thought I just had the flu." But it would turn out that Bonnie had much more than a bug, even if her illness was caused by one! "The next morning I had a big red circle but I never had a bite mark," Bonnie says. "I just doctored it and it kind of went away." That's what she thought, but instead she just kept getting worse. At first doctors diagnosed her with the tick borne disease, Ehrlichiosis. She spent four days in the hospital. Her test results showed that she actually had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, also caused by a tick bite.

In fact the two disease are almost the same, except that Rocky Mountain causes spots. Tick expert Dr. Ed Masters says, "It's important to do tick checks everyday. If it's less than 24 hours, it's chances of it giving you an infection are tremendously decreased." The mild weather we had this spring could mean we'll see more ticks this year. "Ticks are capable of explosive numbers," Dr. Master says. "A single female tick will lay three to 5000 eggs."

Even though she's out of the hospital, Bonnie's battle with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever isn't over yet. For the rest of the summer, she'll have to limit her time out in the sun and keep taking an antibiotic. "I lose my energy," Bonnie says. "I can be up and about for a while and get sluggish." But Bonnie isn't going to let it stop her from everything. She still plans to spend a little time in her garden, but she will be more cautious. "These diseases are very effectively treated early," Dr. Master says.

The best way to protect yourself against ticks is to use a repellant before you got outside. And, Dr. Masters says if you're bitten by tick, put it in a plastic bag with a blade of grass. This will keep it alive for doctors to examine if you start to feel bad after a tick bite.