Bloody Lymey

A Blog About Living with Lyme Disease

New Tick Borne Illness

on January 21, 2013

I got this via email and will just post it in its entirety: 

 

New illness tied to  ticks that carry Lyme disease

By Beth  Daley

|   GLOBE STAFF  

   JANUARY 16, 2013

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Researchers have discovered  a new human disease in the Northeast transmitted by the same common deer tick  that can infect people with Lyme disease.

 

The bacterial illness  causes flu-like symptoms, researchers from Tufts, Yale, and other  insti­tutions reported Wednesday, but they also described the case of an  80-year-old woman who became confused and withdrawn, lost weight, and  ­developed hearing difficulty and a wobbly gait. The woman, from New Jersey,  recovered ­after receiving antibiotics.

 

Researchers estimate that 1  percent of the population in ­areas where Lyme is widespread, such as  western Massachusetts and Cape Cod and the Islands, may be infected by the new  bacteria, which can be transmitted by the tick when it is as small as a poppy  seed. Lyme disease is thought to be 7 to 10 times more prevalent in these  areas.

The discovery, reported in  a paper and letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, marks the fifth human  illness spread by deer ticks in the ­region, highlighting growing concern  about the threat posed by ticks and the burgeoning population of their hosts,  deer. The disease is so new that it is unnamed, and there is no readily  available test for doctors to screen for it, although some are being  developed.

“It was right under our  nose the whole time,’’ said Sam ­Telford, a professor at Tufts Cummings  School of Veterinary Medicine who studies tick-borne  diseases.

 

 

Telford, one author of the  paper about the elderly woman, said the bacterium, Borrelia ­miyamotoi, has  been known in deer ticks for about a decade. But it was not believed to cause  human illness until last year when researchers linked it to 46 sick people in  Russia, some with relapsing ­fevers.

 

One scientist said the new  disease might be the cause of unexplained symptoms, from fatigue to cognitive  decline, in some people who believe they have Lyme disease but do not test  positive for that bacteria.

“The good news is it looks  like it is a treatable illness based on the small number of patients reported  thus far,’’ said Brian Fallon, a professor of psychiatry who runs Columbia  University’s Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center and is not associated  with the studies. “It’s promising to realize that scientists have identified a  new organism carried by ticks that might help to explain why some patients who  test negative for Lyme nonetheless respond favor­ably to antibiotic  treatment.”

 

In six cases described in  the journal, the patients were treated with antibiotics and fully  ­recovered. None of the infected patients, both treated and untreated,  described long-lasting, persistent symptoms.

Researchers from the Yale  Schools of Public Health and Medicine who coauthored the Russian study with  Russian scientists set out to see if there was evidence of the infection in  people’s blood closer to home.

They tested blood samples  obtained since 1990 and found positive results in 1 percent of 584 healthy  people from ­Brimfield in Western Massachusetts and Block Island, R.I. In  addition, 3 percent of 273 Southern New England residents with Lyme disease or  suspected Lyme disease also had evidence that they had been ­infected with  the new bacteria. The researchers could not deter­mine whether most of those  people had the new illness.

 

Similarly, 21 percent of 14  southern New York patients with an unexplained virus-like sickness showed  evidence of ­infection. Lead author Peter Krause, senior research scientist  at Yale School of Public Health, cautioned that it was difficult to draw many  conclusions about prevalence of the disease from these 14 people because the  sample size was so small and the group was highly  selected.

 

Still, given that roughly  2,600 people were reported to get Lyme disease in Massachusetts 2011 and that  the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledge that  underreporting could mean that number is tenfold higher, it stands to reason  there could be a significant number of people who are infected with the new  bacteria, Krause said, ­although how many become sick is  unknown.

 

The 80-year-old woman, who  previously had been treated for cancer, lives on a farm in New Jersey and  suffered four months of mental decline.

 

At first, doctors thought  she might have had a recurrence of cancer, which led them to perform a spinal  tap. Cancer was ruled out, but Joseph L. ­Gugliotta, an infectious disease  doctor at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, saw corkscrew bacteria known  as spirochetes in her spinal fluid. It looked similar to Lyme bacteria, but he  knew the woman, with her compromised immune system, probably would be much  sicker if it were Lyme.

 

He contacted Telford’s  group and others, who knew of the ­recent study in Russia. In the meantime,  Gugliotta began treating her with a monthlong course of  antibiotics.

 

“Within a few days we saw  an improvement,’’ said ­Gugliotta. “By one month, she was  back.”

 

Beth  Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globebethdaley.

 

 

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