There's a new possible suspect behind the most commonly reported insect-borne illness in the US

New Cause of Lyme Disease May Tick You Off

Lyme disease, the most commonly reported insect-carried disease in the United States, is caused by a known bacteria found in ticks. But scientists have now found that another parasite may also be responsible for the nasty illness.

As The New York Times reports, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York, identified six patients who were infected by a newly identified bacteria they named Borrelia mayonii.

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The patients had symptoms similar to those caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, which was previously the only culprit behind Lyme disease in the US.

Learn more about Lyme disease:

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There's a new possible suspect behind the most commonly reported insect-borne illness in the US

Be proactive

  • Avoid tick bites, especially in areas known to harbor deer ticks.
  • Stay out of wooded areas or areas with high grasses
  • When hiking, stick to the trail
  • Cover as much skin as possible, with loose breathable clothing
  • Repel ticks with DEET or permethrin. Use according to directions. Adults should apply on children to avoid ingestion or inhalation.For more information on insect repellants, visit the EPA guide

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Check for ticks

  • Infected ticks have to be attached to the skin for 36-48 hours
  • After coming in from the outdoors, check yourself and your kids
  • Black legged ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so the search has to be very thorough
  • Look in hard to see areas, like the groin, scalp and armpits
  • Pets cannot transmit disease, but they can bring ticks inside the home. Check them as well.

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Look for symptoms
Symptoms of early Lyme disease usually appear within 3 – 30 days after infection and include:

  • Red, expanding bulls-eye rash starting at the site of the bite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

70-80% of patients will get the trademark Erythema Migrans rash.  Because symptoms are vague, being vigilant and aware is key to getting timely treatment

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Seek medical help

  • If you suspect you have Lyme disease, see your doctor immediately.
  • Diagnosis is best made by history and symptoms.
  • Blood tests can be a useful adjunct in some cases.
  • If untreated, the following symptoms can occur:
    • Rash on other parts of the body
    • Bell's palsy – paralysis of the facial muscles
    • Meningitis symptoms including headaches and neck stiffness
    • Large joint pain
    • Heart Palpitations and dizziness

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The findings, which were reported in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, could help explain why so many people who suffer symptoms of Lyme test negative for it.

Symptoms and causes of Lyme disease

There were more than 25,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2014, though other sources estimate as many as 200,000 cases. It is transmitted by bites from deer (or black-legged) ticks, and typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a telltale "bull's eye" rash.

The disease is often treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated, it can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. (Some people report having lasting symptoms that don't respond to treatment, a controversial diagnosis referred to as post-treatment Lyme disease or chronic Lyme disease.)

In addition to the typical Lyme symptoms, the patients with the new bacteria also had nausea and vomiting, but only one out of the six people studied had the bull's eye rash, the Times reports. The antibiotics used to treat B. burgdorferi infections are reportedly also effective against B. mayonii.

Detecting and preventing infections

So far, the new parasite has only been found in the upper Midwest. Bobbi Pritt, the medical director of the microbiology laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, told the Times that people who have been exposed to ticks in Minnesota and Wisconsin and suspect they may have Lyme disease should get tested for B. mayonii infection

Scientists have known for some time that Lyme disease can be caused by multiple species of Borrelia bacteria. But this is the first new species discovered in a decade.

Now that doctors know about it, they may be able to diagnose Lyme cases that current tests don't detect.

But prevention is always the best strategy. You should wear insect repellent or long-sleeves when spending time in outdoor, wooded areas, and check yourself thoroughly for ticks when you get home. Your chances of getting the disease are much lower if you remove the tick within 24 to 48 hours.

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