Health Matters: Four Quick Tips to Protect Against Anaplasmosis
For those who don't work in health care, the disease anaplasmosis sounds made up. In reality, it's the second most common tick-borne illness affecting our region.
Like Lyme disease, the most common one, it is caused by bacteria carried by the blacklegged tick. According to the Vermont Department of Health, Vermont has the highest annual incidence of anaplasmosis nationwide.
You can get anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, as well as a handful of less common tick-borne diseases from the same bite. Because of the tick life cycle, the number of tick bites peaks in May and June and again in late October and November.
Here are some quick tips to protect you against anaplasmosis and other tick-borne diseases:
Avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place. One of the most effective ways to prevent tick bites is to treat your clothing with permethrin, which both repels and kills ticks. It is very effective against tick bites and poses no threat to humans. It is often marketed for "clothing and gear." One treatment, following to the directions on the package, can last up to six washings. Permethrin can be used around your yard in the form of tick-control tubes. You can make them yourself or buy them online. They use cotton treated with permethrin. Mice use the cotton to build their nests. The permethrin kills the ticks without harming the mice. Also, keep your yard mowed and free from brush or leaves and avoiding wooded and bushy areas and those with tall grass or leaf litter. If you enjoy hiking, walk in the center of the trail. And use a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin, following the directions on the package.
Keep the ticks that found you from biting you. Change clothes when you come inside. Wash them in hot water and tumble dry. If possible, bathe or shower within two hours of coming indoors, as well. Conduct a thorough tick check. Deer tick nymphs look as small as a poppy seed on your skin. They can hide in and behind ears, under arms, in the groin, and behind the knees. Check yourself, have a family member check your back and other areas that are difficult to see, and check your children carefully.
Remove ticks that have bitten you immediately. Use pointy tweezers or an aftermarket tick removal device. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull it straight upwards. Do not use any lubricants or hot objects. Mouthparts remaining in your skin does not increase the chances of infection. They will come out on their own. Disinfect the area with alcohol or other disinfectant. Identify the tick using online resources, if possible. Then flush it down the sink or toilet.
Know the symptoms and seek treatment immediately. Not all ticks are infected, so being bitten does not guarantee that you will get a tick-borne illness. Conversely, many of those who receive a tick-borne illness diagnosis don’t recall having been bitten. It’s important to know the symptoms and watch for them. Symptoms of Lyme and anaplasmosis are similar. They include flu-like symptoms, like fever and fatigue; head, neck and joint aches; and enlarged lymph nodes. If you do notice symptoms, see your doctor right away. The time between infection and treatment can make a difference in how long symptoms last. Depending on a number of factors, your doctor may choose to treat you for tick-borne disease or have you tested for tick-borne illness or both. By following your doctor's instructions and taking any prescriptions as directed, you will very likely feel better within just a few days.
Once you are feeling better, resume all of your tick-bite prevention efforts. Having had a tick-borne illness once does not protect you from being infected again.
For complete information about anaplasmosis, visit the Vermont Health Department website.
Marie J. George MD, FIDSA, is the medical director for Infectious Disease at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. "Health Matters" is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.