Ticks Spread Plenty More for You to Worry About Beyond Lyme Disease
By Jerome Goddard
When it comes to problems caused by ticks, Lyme disease hogs a lot of the limelight. But various tick species carry and transmit a collection of other pathogens, some of which cause serious, even fatal, conditions.
In fact, the number of tick-borne disease cases is on the rise in the U.S. The range where various species of ticks live in North America may be expanding due to climate change. Researchers continue to discover new pathogens that live in ticks. And new, invasive tick species keep turning up.
In my career as a public health entomologist, I've been amazed at the ability of ticks to bounce back from all the ways people try to control them, including with pesticides. Ticks excel at finding new ecological niches for survival. So people and ticks frequently cross paths, exposing us to their bites and the diseases they carry.
Here are some of the lesser-known, but growing, threats from ticks.
Ticks Can Spread Bacterial Diseases
Certain very small species of bacteria that can cause human diseases, such as rickettsia, ehrlichia and anaplasma, live in ticks. Ticks ingest these bacteria when they drink animals' blood. Then when the ticks take a subsequent blood meal, they pass the bacteria along to the next animal or person they feed on.
Probably the most well known of these bacterial diseases is Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the most frequently reported rickettsial disease in the U.S., with about 6,000 cases each year. The number of diagnoses seems to be increasing nationwide, especially among Native Americans, probably due to exposure on reservations to free-roaming dogs that can carry ticks.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever usually comes with a rash, as on this child.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), CC BY
When people get sick with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, they usually come to a clinic with three things: fever, rash and history of tick bite. They may also report severe headache, chills and muscle pains, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. A skin rash is usually present after a few days, but not always. Mental confusion, coma and death can occur in severe cases. Untreated, the mortality rate is about 20%; and even with treatment, 4% of those infected die.
Not all tick species are effective transmitters of the rickettsia bacteria. Even within the vector species, often only 1% to 5% of ticks in an area are infected. So getting bitten by a tick that passes rickettsia bacteria on to you is like getting stuck with a needle in a haystack. The primary carriers are the American dog tick in the eastern U.S. and Rocky Mountain wood tick in the West. The brown dog tick has also recently been shown to be a vector.
In most tick-borne diseases, the tick needs to feed for some amount of time before any pathogens it is carrying are transmitted to the animal whose blood it is eating. Rocky Mountain spotted fever organisms generally take between one and three hours for transmission to occur, so attached ticks need to be removed quickly. Doctors usually prescribe the antibiotic doxycycline to treat Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which works quite well if the disease is recognized early.
Ehrlichiosis is another bacterial disease transmitted from ticks to people. In the U.S. it's most commonly caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis bacteria, carried by lone star ticks which are common in the eastern U.S. Ehrlichia bacteria infect a type of blood cell called leukocytes. Human monocytic ehrlichiosis occurs mostly in the southern and south-central U.S.; 1,642 cases were reported to the CDC in 2017.
Ehrlichiosis patients usually have fever, headache, muscle aches and a progressive low white blood cell count. As opposed to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, people get a rash only about 20% to 40% of the time. Doctors usually treat ehrlichiosis with doxycycline.
Another tick-borne bacterial disease to worry about is human granulocytic anaplasmosis. In human granulocytic anaplasmosis, Anaplasma phagocytophilum bacteria infects a type of white blood cell called granulocytes. It mostly occurs in the upper midwestern and northeastern U.S., and the incidence is increasing, with 5,762 cases of human granulocytic anaplasmosis reported to the CDC in 2017.
Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and progressive low white blood cell count. It's the deer tick Ixodes scapularis — famously also responsible for Lyme disease — that transmits the Anaplasma bacteria to humans. There's the unlucky chance that a bite from a deer tick could infect you with both diseases. Again, recommended therapy is doxycycline.
A female Ixodes scapularis tick.
Dr. Blake Layton, MSU, CC BY-ND
Ticks Can Carry Viruses, Too
People usually think of mosquitoes when they think of insect-transmitted viruses – dengue, Zika or West Nile garner a lot of headlines. But ticks can transmit viruses, too.
Scientists have historically grouped tick-borne viral diseases into two categories. One is diseases similar to dengue fever. The main dengue-like viral disease transmitted by ticks in the U.S. is Colorado tick fever, which occurs in mountainous areas of the West.
The other group of tick-borne diseases resemble mosquito-borne encephalitis. Most of these illnesses, characterized by brain inflammation, are not found in the U.S. Powassan encephalitis is the one that is, occurring in the northeastern U.S. and adjacent regions of Canada.
Powassan is a relatively rare but serious human disease, characterized by sudden onset of fever with temperature up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, along with convulsions. Brain inflammation is usually severe, with vomiting, respiratory distress and prolonged fever.
Fewer than 100 cases of Powassan have been reported in North America, with about half of them fatal. Its incidence seems to be increasing; there were 34 cases of Powassan reported during 2017. POW is maintained in a natural cycle when ticks — primarily Ixodes cookei — infect animals with the virus via their bites. Then these infected animals may serve as what scientists call disease reservoirs, infecting new ticks when they feed on their blood.
Tiny larval lone star ticks next to a penny.
In the last decade, researchers have found additional new tick-borne viruses in the U.S. About 30 cases of Heartland virus have thus far been identified. It's associated with the lone star tick and has been recognized in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee.
A few cases of a new Thogotovirus called Bourbon virus have been identified in the Midwest and southern U.S. The lone star tick may be the vector of Bourbon virus as well.
A Food Allergy Triggered by a Tick Bite
Maybe the most bizarre threat from ticks is the "red meat allergy" scientists have recently traced back to tick bites. People can become allergic to eating meat when a tick's saliva passes on the carbohydrate galactose-α-1.3-galactose it had previously picked up in a blood meal from an animal. If prone to allergies, the person can get sensitized to that alpha-gal molecule that's found in animal blood and other tissues.
Then days or weeks later, he or she may develop hives, swollen skin and lips, or even life-threatening anaphylactic shock three to six hours after eating red meat. Meats containing alpha-gal include beef, pork, lamb, squirrel, rabbit, horse, goat, deer, kangaroo, seal and whale. People who become sensitized to alpha-gal may still eat chicken, turkey and fish.
Overall, people should be aware of what tick-borne diseases are present in their area and use personal protection techniques whenever outdoors in tick-infested areas. Remember that ticks often come into close contact with people via pet dogs or cats. It's a good idea to inspect yourself for ticks after being outdoors in tick-infested areas. Reducing the number of tick bites and the amount of time ticks remain attached can go a long way to protecting you from tick-borne diseases.
Invasive Tick Spreads to Ninth State, CDC Warns of 'New and Emerging Disease Threat' https://t.co/9r4yqpJvxJ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) December 3, 2018
Jerome Goddard is an extension professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, entomology and plant pathology at Mississippi State University.
Disclosure statement: Jerome Goddard does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
- Ticks and Mosquitoes Bringing More Diseases—What Can We Do ... ›
- CDC Official Warns Warmer Earth Means More Insect-Borne Diseases ›
- Lyme Disease Symptoms Could Be Mistaken for COVID-19 ›
By Peter A. Kloess
Picture Antarctica today and what comes to mind? Large ice floes bobbing in the Southern Ocean? Maybe a remote outpost populated with scientists from around the world? Or perhaps colonies of penguins puttering amid vast open tracts of snow?
Giants of the Sky<p>As their name suggests, these ancient birds had sharp, bony spikes protruding from sawlike jaws. Resembling teeth, these spikes would have helped them catch squid or fish. We also studied another remarkable feature of the pelagornithids – their imposing size.</p><p>The largest flying bird alive today is the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/group/albatrosses/" target="_blank">wandering albatross</a>, which has a wingspan that reaches 11 ½ feet. The Antarctic pelagornithids fossils we studied have a wingspan nearly double that – about 21 feet across. If you tipped a two-story building on its side, that's about 20 feet.</p><p>Across Earth's history, very few groups of vertebrates have achieved powered flight – and only two reached truly giant sizes: birds and a group of <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/pterosaurs-flight-in-the-age-of-dinosaurs/what-is-a-pterosaur" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reptiles called pterosaurs</a>.</p>
Full-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus on display at JuraPark in Baltow, Poland. Aneta Leszkiewicz / Wikimedia<p>Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago), the same period that dinosaurs roamed the planet, and they reached hard-to-believe dimensions. <a href="https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quetzalcoatlus</a> stood 16 feet tall and had a colossal 33-foot wingspan.</p>
Birds Get Their Opportunity<p>Birds originated while dinosaurs and pterosaurs were still roaming the planet. But when an <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-killing-asteroid-impact-chicxulub-crater-timeline-destruction-180973075/" target="_blank">asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago</a>, dinosaurs and pterosaurs both perished. Some <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-birds-survived-asteroid-impact-wiped-out-dinosaurs" target="_blank">select birds survived</a>, though. These survivors diversified into the thousands of bird species alive today. Pelagornithids evolved in the period right after dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, when competition for food was lessened.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1284" target="_blank">The earliest pelagornithid remains</a>, recovered from 62-million-year-old sediments in New Zealand, were about the size of modern gulls. The first giant pelagornithids, the ones in our study, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75248-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">took flight over Antarctica about 10 million years later</a>, in a period called the Eocene Epoch (56 million to 33.9 million years ago). In addition to these specimens, fossilized remains from other pelagornithids have been found on every continent.</p><p>Pelagornithids lasted for about 60 million years before going extinct just before the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago). No one knows exactly why, though, because few fossil records have been recovered from the period at the end of their reign. Some paleontologists cite <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2011.562268" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change as a possible factor</a>.</p>
Piecing it Together<p>The fossils we studied are fragments of whole bones collected by paleontologists from the University of California at Riverside in the 1980s. In 2003, the specimens were transferred to Berkeley, where they now reside in the <a href="https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of California Museum of Paleontology</a>.</p><p>There isn't enough material from Antarctica to rebuild an entire skeleton, but by comparing the fossil fragments with similar elements from more complete individuals, we were able to assess their size.</p>
In life, the pelagornithid would have had numerous 'teeth,' making it a formidable predator. Peter Kloess, CC BY-NC-SA
- Climate Change Threatens Two-Thirds of North American Bird ... ›
- 37% of North American Birds Face Extinction - EcoWatch ›
- Meet Five 'Extinct' Species That Have Returned to Life - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The world's largest financial institutions loaned more than $2.6 trillion in 2019 to sectors driving the climate crisis and wildlife destruction, according to a new report from advocacy organization portfolio.earth.
- Climate Crisis May Cause the Next Financial Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- World's Banks Have Given $2.7 Trillion to Fossil Fuels Since Paris ... ›
- World's Biggest Banks Are Driving Climate Change, Pumping ... ›
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of products containing the weedkiller dicamba for use on cotton and soybeans Tuesday. The EPA announcement means that two products that contain the herbicide found to cause cancer can be registered for five years. It also extended the use of a third product that also has dicamba in it, according to The Hill.
- West Texas Vineyards Hit by Herbicide Drift - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's EPA Sides With Monsanto, Extends Dicamba 2 More Years ›
As U.S. Election Nears, Polling Shows 82 Percent of Voters Support 100 Percent Clean Energy Transition
By Jessica Corbett
With an estimated 66 million ballots already cast and only a week to go until Election Day, new polling released Tuesday shows the vast majority of U.S. voters believe the nation should be prioritizing a transition to 100% clean energy and support legislation to decarbonize the economy over the next few decades.
<div id="5206f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="584d1641628f692ff103aee7ed74b45e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1321080152328208384" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Biden should get "uncontrolled climate change would cost $486 trillion" tattooed on his forehead imo https://t.co/nTbVdHa9gD</div> — Emily Atkin (@Emily Atkin)<a href="https://twitter.com/emorwee/statuses/1321080152328208384">1603805027.0</a></blockquote></div>
Arctic Ocean sediments are full of frozen gases known as hydrates, and scientists have long been concerned about what will happen when and if the climate crisis induces them to thaw. That is because one of them is methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey has listed Arctic hydrate destabilization as one of the four most serious triggers for even more rapid climate change.