Spring brings tick season

Published 5:13 am Monday, April 11, 2022

I was awake at two in the morning when I realized I was scratching a tick bite.
I had gotten the tick bite four weeks earlier while camping. At least, I think that is where I picked up the little hitchhiker.
Somehow it had been missed during my shower and change of clothes, but found during an award ceremony at my daughter’s school.
As the great many athletic awards (great job, kids, but I have no idea who you are and there are so many of you) were handed out, I noted an itch.
As I scratched, I noted the new ‘bump.’
Then I paid attention to the fact that it flopped up and down when I explored the new bump.
Then I knew I had a tick.
Ticks come in a few varieties in Kentucky and we have plenty of them.
But as annoying as the bite is, the real danger is the diseases that they carry.
The heartworm test that we use comes combined with a tick-borne disease panel.
A decade ago, we would see few positive tests. Now, we see at least a positive tick-borne disease test every week. Lyme disease is becoming more and more common in this area and is the most common disease we find.
It is a crippling arthritic disease that can affect the heart and kidneys to cause death in both humans and dogs. If it is caught early, treatment is easy and effective.
For dogs, there is also a vaccine that is effective. Dogs are vaccinated twice, about three weeks apart and then annually after that.
We are talking to every pet owner about Lyme disease at their annual visit. And one of the companies is running a special on the booster vaccine, so for a while, it is cheaper than normal.
There are multiple species of Ehrlichia that affect dogs and humans worldwide. Other names include ‘tracker dog disease,’ ‘tropical canine pancytopenia,’ ‘canine hemorrhagic fever’ and ‘canine typhus.’ Military dogs during the Vietnam war efforts were often infected.
In humans, symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and muscles aches. They usually happen one to two weeks after a tick bite. Occasionally it progresses to a serious life threatening infection.
In dogs, Ehrlichiosis can have three phases. During the acute phase, Ehrlichia enter white blood cells and reproduce.
The lymph nodes, liver and spleen are often enlarged while the platelets are destroyed.
Dogs have anemia, fever, medical depression, lethargy, anorexia, shortness of breath with joint pain and stiffness. Because of the platelet destruction bruising is often seen. Many dogs fight off the infection and are then healthy.
The ones that do not (subclinical phase) may show a slight anemia while the Ehrlichia live inside the spleen for months to years.
Again, eventually, the dog may fight off the disease. If they do not (chronic phase), weight loss, anemia, failure to clot, neurological signs, inflammation of the eyes and hind limb edema may occur.
Anaplasmosis is very similar to Ehrlicia and scientists used to think it was in the same family.
In humans, it was called human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE).
Typically, the headache, fever, chills and muscle aches happen one to two weeks after a tick bite.
Many dogs have subclinical infections with Anaplasma. If they are sick, the signs are similar to Ehrlichia. Indeed, all three of these diseases are a type of rickettsia, which are between a bacteria and virus.
Babesia is a blood parasite transmitted by ticks that is a little more difficult to diagnose.
Dogs may have moderate to severe hemolytic anemia. If they are sick, they may have fever, anorexia, depression, pallor, splenomegaly and a bounding pulse. Thankfully, the disease is considered uncommon in healthy, spleen-intact adult dogs in the United States, because treatment is more difficult. Humans usually do not get sick, but treatment may be easier.
Pets and people can be infected with multiple species at one time.
A single tick can carry more than one disease. This often complicates treatment and recovery.
Cats are known to get Ehrlichia, but not as much is understood about the disease.
We think the diseases Anaplasma and Ehrlichia are similar in cats to the diseases in dogs.
Cats have their own Babesia, that can be treated.
Interestingly, the CDC, NIH and CAPC list the tick-borne diseases as preventable.
For pets that means tick preventatives during the tick season (March to October).
For people, it means preventing them on pets and finding them and removing them before or right after attachment.
I know the CDC expects that to also mean avoiding areas that have ticks, but that means no camping, hiking or outdoor activities and that doesn’t work for me. However, powdered sulfur in my socks does seem to help prevent ticks and chiggers.
As I was sitting in the awards ceremony, I removed the tick from just below my waist band.
To remove a tick: grasp it at the mouth parts and pull straight out. Burning, alcohol and other noxious things cause the tick to regurgitate and then they are more likely to transmit disease. Human health professionals do recommend use of gloves, but I didn’t wait to get them.
Since I did not have Huck Finn or a chalk board, I killed the tick with my fingernail and noted from the single white dot that it was a Lone Star tick. Commonly a transmitter of Lyme and Ehrlichia, I looked closer at the mouth parts. There was very little of my skin attached to the tick’s mouth parts. This is important because the tick needs to be attached (to humans or pets) for 12-24 hours to transmit disease. Because it had not been attached that long, I would have paid it no mind. Likewise, I did not worry about transmitting it to anyone else (pet or human) in my family. Only by a tick, or the infected blood of a tick, can these diseases be transmitted.
Even then it has to gain access to the pet or person’s blood.
While I am grateful not to have a tick-borne disease again; unfortunately, that same sensitivity that allowed me to know early that I had a tick, caused me to scratch enough for a secondary infection that still itches.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) provided information for this article.
Please, use the worldwide web (WWW) responsibly to research health items.
Your medical professional will appreciate you.
They have trained a long time to be able to diagnose you and your pet, don’t panic before you talk to them.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566

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