We’re bringing this upon ourselves, we really are. Because of the widespread changes that humans are wreaking on habitats across the U.S., ticks are multiplying. They are giving more people Lyme disease — and they’re not stopping there. Other diseases, including a brand-new gross virus, are carried by ticks as well.
As the New Yorker reported recently, black-legged ticks, which transmit Lyme, can also carry at least four other evil pathogens: “Anaplasma phagocytophilium, which causes anaplasmosis; Babesia microti, which causes babesiosis; Borrelia miyamotoi, a recently discovered genetic relative of the Lyme spirochete; and Powassan virus.” If that doesn’t freak you out, it should. From the New Yorker:
Some of these infections are more dangerous than Lyme, and more than one can infect a person at the same time. Simultaneous infection, scientists suggest, may well enhance the strength of the assault on the immune system, while making the disease itself harder to treat or recognize.
But according to the CDC, black-legged ticks are only really going to transmit diseases to humans in Northeastern and upper Midwestern states. So those of us outside their range can relax, right? NOPE. New research has confirmed that a new virus — the Heartland virus, which infected two Missouri farmers in 2009 — is carried by ticks. And these ticks, lone star ticks, live in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States.
The Heartland virus is also a problem you’d rather not deal with. It comes with high fever, diarrhea, and a drop in white blood cells. The researchers who identified the disease in the ticks say one in 500 carry it. So for heaven’s sake, if you go walking in trees or high grass or anywhere near a deer or ANYWHERE OUTSIDE, have someone check you thoroughly when you get back in. Think of it as an excuse to make people look at you naked. Or, you know, think of it as a sensible way to reduce your risk of getting a sucky disease.