Lyme Disease A Threat In Winter Too, For People And Pets

With news that researchers have discovered a new tick-borne disease, local Lyme disease expert Steven Levy, VMD, of Durham, warns that humans and pets are at risk all year long.


Researchers at Yale University last week announced the discovery of a new, tick-borne disease in humans that shares similarities with Lyme disease.

Infection from the bacteria, known as Borrelia miyamotoi, can lead to headache, muscle ache, fatigue and relapsing fever and some experts believe there are as many as 4,000 undiagnosed cases of the illness in the country.

"It's just another example of how the different infections that are being carried by ticks are constantly expanding and emerging," said Durham resident and veterinarian Steven Levy. Levy has spent decades studying Lyme disease and its affect on animals, particularly dogs, as well as humans. 

While dogs and humans are most susceptible to infection during the spring and fall, when ticks are most active, Levy warns that both can be infected during winter as well.

"One of the interesting things about the deer tick is that bacteria that will infect deer ticks actually secrete an anti-freeze compound that keeps the deer ticks from freezing as the weather gets colder," said Levy. "It helps the deer tick survive."

It's not just deer either.

"The ticks are spreading because the animals that carry the ticks are spreading. One perfect example is the huge explosion of the population of wild turkeys in Connecticut," Levy said.

Host animals for ticks also include rodents and farm animals.

Although there is currently no vaccine for humans to protect them from getting Lyme disease, a vaccine has been highly successful in dogs.

The disease is almost entirely preventable, according to Levy, if dog owners vaccinate their pets early on. The vaccine costs between $25-$50 and is also also effective in older dogs, he said.

Humans should be treated within 72 hours of infection. Higher doses of antibiotics are often necessary to treat the disease when infection goes untreated.

Alexander Davis January 23, 2013 at 09:42 AM
Levy mentions other hosts for the deer tick, but deer are the most important hosts because 95% of the adult egg-laying deer ticks feed on deer. These adult ticks require a sizeable mammal to feed on and cannot feed on rodents or birds. Domestic animals of course can be treated for ticks. Deer are key to the reproductive success of the deer tick. This is why in places like Monhegan Island ME and Mumford Cove CT it has been shown that Lyme epidemics can be stopped by removing the deer. Estimates are that ticks from just one deer can produce up to one million tick eggs per season. From these tick eggs come the immature ticks which may feed on rodents and birds and infect us. Removing the deer disrupts the tick life cycle. There has never been a Lyme epidemic in the absence of deer. Indeed, the deer epidemic caused the Lyme epidemic. In 1930 there were 300,000 deer in the US. Today there are 30 million.


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