Tick disease and coronavirus are difficult to distinguish this year
As if we don’t already have already have enough worries, health officials are warning Michiganders to guard against a tick borne disease that mimics COVID-19 symptoms.
Anaplasmosis is still rare in Michigan but the number of cases reportedly yearly in the state is on the rise.
There were 12 documented cases of anaplasmosis in Michigan reported to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in 2019. Michigan has seen an increase over the last six years, with only four cases reported in 2014.
The symptoms are very much like those reported with the coronavirus: fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headaches and maybe a little fatigue. People experiencing those range of symptoms are advised to seek medical attention.
This year, trying to avoid a tick bite and its side effects may be harder than normal. The blood-sucking ticks are increasing because of the mild winter, which was followed by warmer temperatures. State health officials were seeing tick bites as early as December and January, so they recommend avoiding tick habitat and to take preventive measures.
The biggest worry about tick bites in recent years has been Lyme disease, which can cause skin rash, headache, fatigue, fever and, in some instances, long-term debilitating damage to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
It’s important to note the differences between COVID-19 and anaplasmosis, according to Dr. Paige Armstrong, who leads the U.S. Public Health Service epidemiology team of the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch. Early treatment is recommended, especially when trying to distinguish the two diseases.
Armstrong says that COVID-19 can come with losing taste or smell and congestion, which is not found in anaplasmosis. It is uncommon, but anaplasmosis can cause respiratory problems such as shortness of breath and coughing, said Armstrong.
Armstrong says to see a health care provider immediately if signs of fever, headache, muscle aches or fatigue are present. It is also important to let the health care provider know of any recent tick bites.
Ticks are small bugs that latch on to the body and suck the blood out of both humans and pets. Oftentimes, they remain on the body and have to be removed by tweezers.
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Annually, there are 4,000 to 6,000 cases of anaplasmosis reported and it is most common in the Northeast and upper Midwest, because of the presence of blacklegged ticks, Armstrong said.
The blacklegged ticks, often called deer ticks in Michigan, can transfer Lyme disease and many other pathogens. The American dog tick and the blacklegged tick are the two most common in Michigan, said MDHHS epidemiologist Kim Signs.
Dr. Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association, says it’s easier said than done to prevent ticks bites, but there are measures people can take to stay safe.
“It’s a good idea to avoid tick habitat,” said Fredericks. “There are some places that are more likely to have ticks.”
That includes overgrown weeds, the edges of trails, tall grass areas and in the woods. Fredericks added that people are spending more time outdoors this year because of the coronavirus outbreak, which may be an additional cause of the increase.
It is recommended to use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered tick repellent, said Fredericks. The EPA registration means the repellents is not harmful, has been tested and it’s effective.
Other preventative methods include tucking or taping your pants into your hiking socks and wearing light-colored pants, said MDHHS medical entomologist Emily Dinh. Signs says people should shower and check their bodies thoroughly after being outside to remove any loose ticks.
Clothing and other camping tools can be placed in a dryer for about 10 minutes to kill any additional ticks.
Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says that blacklegged ticks can transmit anaplasmosis to dogs and less commonly to cats.
“In fact, U.S. veterinarians are seeing an increase in cases of canine anaplasmosis, which rose from 117,203 in 2015 to 207,825 in 2019,” said Howe in an email statement.
Howe says pets with anaplasmosis may experience lack of appetite, joint pain, fever, lethargy or lameness.
When it comes to pets, Signs recommends checking the pet if it has been outside, just as a person would be checked. To search for ticks, it is recommended to look under the pet’s collar, eyelids, ears, groin, armpits, feet and tails.
“If you have a pet and they go outside, you should talk with your veterinarian about what products are available to help prevent ticks and fleas on your pets in the summer,” said Signs.
Howe says to remove ticks from pets using tweezers while avoiding twisting or crushing the tick. If the tick’s particles remain on the pet’s skin, it is recommended by Howe to monitor the area and contact a veterinarian.
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