And for your listening enjoyment:
Tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF), and more make up a growing public health problem, especially considering the warming effects of climate change on deer and tick populations in the U.S. and abroad.
While awareness of the dangers of tick-borne diseases is spreading, there’s still a lot to be learned about which diseases ticks carry, their symptoms, whether they can be treated and how, and, of course, their potential long-term effects on one’s health. Along with that, many may wonder:
This article will provide some background information to answer those questions.
Yes – though Lyme disease deaths are rare, they are possible. Reuters cites CDC research that found that between 1999 and 2003, there were 114 recorded deaths attributed to Lyme disease in the U.S. That includes one case in which long-term effects of Lyme on the patient’s central nervous system led to acute respiratory failure that caused their death.
It should be noted that most deaths related to Lyme disease are caused by complications from Lyme – especially untreated Lyme – rather than the disease itself. Some examples of such complications are described below.
Lyme carditis is a rare but dangerous condition in which the bacteria that causes Lyme or TBRF enters the heart and causes inflammation. This can lead to irregular heartbeats or heart arrhythmia, as well as heart block that can be deadly. Just having Lyme disease or TBRF does not mean you will develop Lyme carditis, but there are several documented deaths linked to the condition.
There is debate over the nature of chronic Lyme and Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). One thing that is clear, however, is that those whose Lyme is untreated or treated too late can develop chronic health problems that can include new and debilitating illnesses.
One example is immune disorders, such as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). MCAS is one of several immune disorders related to the body’s ability to react to allergens. In MCAS, the body’s allergic responses become overactive, making even everyday foods or environmental triggers dangerous.
The condition can worsen over time and has been linked to at least one death.
Again, MCAS is just one example of several immune disorders that may arise with untreated or chronic Lyme. More research is underway to clarify the link between Lyme disease and chronic (and potentially deadly) health problems.
Though experts maintain that Lyme disease deaths are rare, many Lyme-literate doctors (LLMDs) and other advocates point out that the data on Lyme disease deaths could be misleading.
This is partly because most of the current research relies on data from death records – i.e., the reason listed by physicians or those performing an autopsy. This does not necessarily guarantee that the cause of death is listed accurately, which could mean the actual number of deaths caused by Lyme or Lyme complications could be higher.
Another factor that could obscure the true number of Lyme-related deaths is the fact that Lyme disease can worsen other conditions, which can then lead to fatalities. In these cases, Lyme is often not seen as the cause or even mentioned at all.
Lyme disease is not the only tick-borne disease that can cause deadly complications. Read on to learn about the most dangerous and possibly fatal tick-borne illnesses.
The CDC calls RMSF “the most deadly tick-borne disease in the world.” If not treated properly, death can occur within 8 days of the onset of symptoms – even in previously healthy people. This is partly because untreated RMSF can cause damage to blood vessels that leads to organ and tissue damage. Even for RMSF survivors, the CDC notes that a serious infection can lead to permanent damage that can include:
To learn more about the symptoms, treatment, and testing for RMSF, read IGeneX’s article on the disease.
Unlike the other tick-borne diseases on this list (except Babesiosis), which are mostly bacterial infections, Powassan is a tick-borne virus. Though it is rare – one study found only 30 blacklegged ticks to be carrying Powassan virus out of 1,900 sampled in Connecticut – it is very dangerous.
Not only can the disease kill patients, but it can also lead to serious long-term health effects and complications which themselves can be deadly. Powassan caused the death of at least one New York man in 2019, and caused encephalitis that led to the death of former senator Kay Hagan later that year.
Since Powassan Virus is so dangerous and cannot be treated with antibiotics, it’s as important as ever to practice good tick prevention methods. That includes checking for ticks daily and removing them immediately. To learn more about what to do after a tick bite, read IGeneX’s guide.
TBRF is caused by a different group of species of Borrelia than those that cause Lyme disease. That means it often looks and behaves like Lyme disease, but won’t show up on traditional Lyme disease tests. If left untreated, TBRF can be deadly and/or cause similar, potentially fatal complications to those associated with Lyme disease.
Bartonellosis, caused by species of the bacteria Bartonella, is a group of diseases that cause serious illness in humans, including but not limited to:
Primarily associated with fleas and lice, Bartonellosis is now understood to also be spread by the same ticks that carry Lyme disease. Several types of Bartonellosis can cause fatal complications for immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV.
Babesiosis is a malaria-like disease spread to humans by the same hard-bodied ticks that spread Lyme disease.
What makes Babesiosis similar to malaria is the way the causative agent Babesia affects the body. Like malaria, Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. This usually causes initial flu-like symptoms, though some patients are asymptomatic.
Because some of the most dangerous tick-borne diseases can be transmitted quickly and/or are not treatable by antibiotics, tick prevention is crucial. Always check for ticks, know how to properly remove attached ticks, and save any ticks you find for testing by local authorities.
It’s also imperative that you have access to the latest diagnostic testing at a reputable center, ideally under the guidance of a physician who has experience with tick-borne diseases.
Great article – but a few points:
Researchers are paying more and more attention to Borrelia miyamotoi, a spiral-shaped bacteria related to the types of Borrelia that cause Lyme disease. This bacteria is prevalent on both coasts of the US and is a known cause of Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, or TBRF.
Borrelia miyamotoi is one of the most recently discovered species of Relapsing Fever-causing bacteria. In fact, some experts consider it the causative agent of an “emerging” tick-borne disease, and it is not even reportable to the CDC yet.
As will be addressed in detail later in this blog, what makes B. miyamotoi different from other TBRF bacteria is that it is spread by a different type of tick. Whereas most TBRF cases in the US are spread by soft ticks, B. miyamotoi is spread by hard ticks – including the same species of ticks that spread Lyme disease.
Keep reading to learn more about B. miyamotoi and what it means for patients, doctors, and testing and diagnostics.
B. miyamotoi is one of several closely related bacteria that cause Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever in the US. Like the bacteria that cause Lyme, these are spiral-shaped bacteria or “spirochetes” that cause serious symptoms, including rashes and fevers.
TBRF gets its name from the “relapsing” fevers that show up in some patients. According to the CDC, these are typically high fevers (e.g., 103 degrees) that last for about 3 days, followed by about 7 days without fever, then 3 days of fever again, and so on. Symptoms typically show up within 7 days of infection and can repeat several times if not treated with antibiotics.
However, it is important to note that not all patients experience fevers. Like Lyme disease, TBRF symptoms can vary widely among patients. The non-specific nature of these symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis, especially in the case of patients who think they have Lyme but test negative because the test is not designed to detect other types of bacteria, like those that cause TBRF.
In 1995, Masahito Fukunaga et al. discovered and named Borrelia miyamotoi after the researcher who had first isolated spirochetes from hard-bodied ticks in Japan. According to the CDC, it wasn’t until 2011 that the first human case of B. miyamotoi infection was found in Russia. The first North American human case was found in 2013, though some research shows the presence of the bacteria in ticks in Connecticut as far back as 2001.
The CDC and some other entities refer to the illness caused by B. miyamotoi as Borrelia miyamotoi disease. Though the CDC does not provide explicit reasoning for this, there are some similarities and differences between B. miyamotoi and other TBRF-causing bacteria that may be of interest to readers. One difference, which will be covered more in detail later, is that B. miyamotoi is spread by a different type of tick than other TBRF-causing bacteria in North America.
However, what CDC calls Borrelia miyamotoi disease causes very similar symptoms to those of TBRF, namely fever, chills, and headache. Additionally, infections caused by B. miyamotoi and other TBRF-causing bacteria can be detected with both PCR tests and serological tests, and both are treated by antibiotics, usually doxycycline (as with TBRF and Lyme) but sometimes amoxicillin or ceftriaxone. For children and pregnant women, erythromycin or penicillin can be successful.
As IGeneX has covered in numerous articles before, humans are most commonly infected by bites from ticks in the nymph stage of development. This is because ticks at this stage have previously fed on animal reservoirs in the larval stage – such as the white-footed mouse – and then move onto blood meals from larger animals, such as dogs or humans, where they are able to transmit pathogens without being noticed due to their small size.
However, research has shown that B. miyamotoi can actually be spread directly from adult female ticks to their offspring through something called transovarial transmission. In other words, baby ticks can be “born” already infected with B. miyamotoi, rather than having to feed on an infected host (as is the case with Lyme-causing bacteria). Larval ticks still make up a very small percentage of overall infected ticks, with a recent San Francisco State University study showing just 0.11% of larvae in the sample being infected with B. miyamotoi. However, the prevalence of infection increases at each stage of life, and transovarial transmission gives B. miyamotoi a head start.
One of the main differences between Lyme disease and TBRF is that most cases of TBRF in the US result from the bites of soft ticks. Soft ticks come from the Argasidae family, as opposed to the Ixodidae family of hard-bodied ticks. Soft ticks have more rounded bodies and are missing the hard shell around the mouthparts that is characteristic of hard-bodied ticks. What’s more, soft ticks can transmit disease – typically via the bacteria B. hermsii, the most common TBRF pathogen in the U.S. – in under 15 minutes.
However, B. miyamotoi is the only cause of TBRF that is known to be spread by hard ticks from the Ixodidae family. In the US, B. miyamotoi is found specifically in Eastern and Western blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) – the main causes of Lyme disease in the US. This means that those living in blacklegged tick-endemic regions, including states along both coasts, are at risk of both Lyme disease and TBRF. It is also possible to be infected with both Lyme and TBRF from the same tick bite.
It’s important to understand that symptoms of B. miyamotoi infections and TBRF, in general, can look just like Lyme symptoms. These include:
Again, not all patients experience fevers, and patients who do have fevers will not necessarily experience recurring fevers. And since the same hard-bodied ticks that carry Lyme disease can also carry B. miyamotoi, you can be infected with both diseases at once (among other tick-borne co-infections). This means it is extremely important for doctors to test patients for all possible disease-causing bacteria, including B. miyamotoi.
IGeneX offers comprehensive tick-borne disease testing designed to detect all major tick-borne disease pathogens in the US, not just those that cause Lyme. Learn more about testing for TBRF with IGeneX today.
Great information on a pathogen that isn’t reportable yet. This is a real problem. Prevalence is completely unknown due to this – which desperately needs to change. Borrelia Miyamotoi (Bm) could very well be a reason many are going undiagnosed. Since Lyme testing will not pick it up, many with legitimate symptoms are being sent home after testing negative for Lyme.
https://anchor.fm/morgellons/episodes/Stigma-em8tkp/a-a1plh1 Go here for Podcast Approx. 14 Min
After Kristofferson obtained Lyme treatment his friend stated:
“It’s like Lazarus coming out of the grave and being born again.” Chris Gantry
Any time you shoot a deer that’s heavier than you are is worthy of celebration. So I was ecstatic when I dropped a big buck with my arrow last Monday evening. Few events are more exciting than finally getting a deer you’ve worked hard for. But once he’s down, the reality of potentially backbreaking work just begins. (See link for article)
Besides the ubiquitous moose ticks — also called winter ticks — there were many lice, louse flies and only male deer ticks, which are of no value to Sam’s research. “The female deer ticks must have already engorged and dropped off,” Sam concluded disappointingly.
Laying the ground with an insecticide-sprayed tarp is the answer to this.
Telford states that moose ticks in Northern New England suck the blood of 1st year moose enough to cause over half of them to die every winter. He states they don’t prefer human blood but the native Americans had an expression for them that translates, “bite like fire,” so they evidently DO bite humans!
Moose ticks also typically spend their entire life on one host.
The article states there were abundant, wingless louse flies or keds – which unfortunately Telford did not collect. The female releases her young on the forest floor where they attach to bedded deer, which they feed on almost exclusively. Again, the article states they don’t care for humans but they CAN carry bacteria and their potential disease threat remains unclear.
Yet, the following articles show THEY DO TRANSMIT TO HUMANS:
It’s truly unfortunate that transmission studies remain in infancy. The one all the researchers refer to has an inch of dust on it.