Health Care

There’s been a ‘dramatic increase’ of this tick-borne illness in Centre County. Here’s what to know

Mayo Clinic Minute - How to safely remove a tick

Do you know the proper way to remove a tick that’s attached to your body? Despite what you may have been told when you were younger, smothering or burning ticks is not a good idea. The correct removal method is even easier.
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Do you know the proper way to remove a tick that’s attached to your body? Despite what you may have been told when you were younger, smothering or burning ticks is not a good idea. The correct removal method is even easier.

Centre County has seen a “dramatic increase” in hospitalizations over the past two years for an infectious bacterial disease primarily spread by deer ticks, according to a Mount Nittany Physician Group infectious disease specialist.

In 2017, five people were hospitalized at Mount Nittany Medical Center due to an anaplasmosis infection, which causes fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, communications coordinator Anissa Ilie said. Twenty-five people were hospitalized with anaplasmosis last year, and, as of July 24, 23 people have been hospitalized in 2019, she said.

Those exposed to the tick-borne illness typically symptoms within one or two weeks after the bite, Ilie said.

Frequency of reported cases are highest among men and those older than 40, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who live near wooded areas or participate in outdoor activity may also be at an increased risk of infection, Mount Nittany Physician Group infectious disease specialist Evan Bell said.

“The last two summers, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in anaplasma infections, which can be confusing and misdiagnosed,” Bell said. “It is a bacterial infection that is carried by the same tick that carries Lyme disease. ... It can present with many of the same symptoms of early Lyme disease, as well as flu or other more common illnesses.”

When the disease became nationally notifiable in 2000, there were 348 anaplasmosis cases reported to the CDC. That number increased to 5,762 cases in 2017 — an increase of 1,555%, according to the department’s data.

In Pennsylvania, the number of anaplasmosis cases reported to the state Department of Health increased every year since 2015, when there were 21 cases reported. In 2018, 108 cases were reported, department press secretary Nate Wardle said.

Joyce Sakamoto, an assistant research professor of entomology at Penn State, said the increase could be due to a combination of greater awareness of the disease and more testing of patients.

A blood test and review of a patient’s clinical history by a medical professional can confirm the diagnosis. An antibiotic, doxycycline, is generally prescribed for 10-14 days to treat the infection, Bell said.

“We’ve seen a couple patients that have been transferred from other hospitals where the diagnosis was missed — wasn’t thought of,” Bell said. “(I’m worried about) someone who is 35, feels lousy, has aches and pains, has a 102 (degree) fever and passes it off as the flu and this is maybe what they’re dealing with.”

More than 50% of all cases are reported in June and July, with May and August as the third and fourth months, respectively, with the most reported cases, according to the CDC.

The summer surge coincides with an increase of nymphal deer ticks, which is the primary life stage when ticks bite humans and can transmit the pathogen, Sakamoto said. Nymphal deer ticks are about the size of a poppy seed, she said.

“They’re small enough that, if you’re not really doing a very thorough check after going out into the woods or being in areas that you know there are going to be a lot of ticks, you can miss one,” Sakamoto said. “When you see an adult (tick), you’re like, ‘Ah, it’s a tick on me. Oh God.’ The nymphs you don’t always see and that’s what makes them so dangerous.”

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.
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