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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Same Tick, Different Disease: Vermont Health Dept. Warns Of Rise Of Anaplasmosis

As the incidence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses rises, we're talking about the growing risk and what may happen next.
Erik Karits
Anaplasmosis is spread by the black-legged tick. There's no bulls-eye rash associated with it, and the disease has a higher hospitalization rate than Lyme disease. The Health Department is warning Vermonters of the disease during the fall surge of ticks.

The Vermont Department of Health announced that the state is on pace to hit a record number of cases of anaplasmosis, a disease spread by the black-legged tick.

As of September, there have been 133 cases of anaplasmosis, only six fewer than there were in 2015.

The black-legged tick also spreads Lyme disease. But what makes anaplasmosis notable, said Bradley Tompkins, an infections disease epidemiologist, is that it has a higher hospitalization rate than Lyme.

“Lyme disease is the most commonly-reported tick borne disease in Vermont but only about 3 percent of people with Lyme disease in Vermont end up hospitalized for the illness,” Tompkins said. “If you compare that with an anaplasmosis ... we see about 34 percent of people with anaplasmosis getting hospitalized. So it's a much more severe illness than than Lyme disease."

Unlike Lyme disease’s distinct bulls-eye rash, there are no visual cues associated with anaplasmosis, said Tompkins. The symptoms are pretty generic: fever, headache, muscle aches and joint pain.

However, according to Tompkins, treating anaplasmosis is simple.

“[It] is treated the same way that Lyme disease is treated, often [with] oral antibiotics,” said Tompkins. “Once you get sick and you get treated, you are fully cured of it.”

Tompkins said he could only speculate as to what’s caused the increase in cases of anaplasmosis, but he suspects that are a couple of factors.

“One, I would hope, [is] that there's more awareness in the health care community and in the public about the disease, so people are getting tested more often and getting diagnosed,” he said. “But also I think that there's probably more of this bacteria in Vermont, and then I also think the black tick community is moving into parts of Vermont where it wasn't so common before.”

A press release from the Vermont Department of Health advises people that even though anaplasmosis peaks in the spring and summer, a second surge often occurs in the fall, when ticks are looking for another blood meal before winter.

“If you're out in walking on a trail,  stay in the middle of the trail,” Tompkins said. “Don't wander off into the sides where there's higher brush or a lot of leaf litter, because ticks sit on the edge of a blade of grass and they attach to you. If you're in the middle of the trail where there is short grass you're less likely to encounter a tick.”

Wearing long sleeves, pants and light colored clothing are also ways to avoid and spot ticks, Tompkins said.

“There's a chemical called Permethrin that you can apply to your clothing that will help repel and kill any ticks that do attach to your clothing,” Tompkins said.  “And then if you do happen to find a tick on you, take it off as soon as possible and watch for symptoms of Lyme disease [and] anaplasmosis.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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