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Another reason to be ticked off

It’s time to add another tongue-tying illness to the list of maladies carried by ticks. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the U. S., with more than 30,000 people infected annually. Ticks that carry Lyme can also spread anaplasmosis and babesiosis.  And now they have been tied to Borrelia miyamotoi, a pathogen characterized by relapsing fevers.

Experts believe miyamotoi is active in many parts of the U.S. wherever Lyme is present.  And, unlike most tick-borne diseases, miyamotoi can be transmitted from adult female ticks to their offspring, called larvae.

Dr. Richard Ostfeld is a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

“Larval ticks, we used to think, were safe. We get bitten by them a lot.  We definitely do.  We humans get bitten by these tiny, little larval ticks that are almost impossible to detect.  We thought there were no ill health consequences.  But now we suspect that there could be a health threat from this one pathogen that occurs in the larval ticks.”

Working with Bard College biologist Dr. Felicia Keesing, Rick is investigating the presence of miyamotoi  in both tick populations and wildlife reservoirs at field sites in Dutchess County, NY.

“We thought we could sort of relax a little bit after July, which is when the nymph stage is active.  And that’s the one we really need to worry about.  But now we know we need to worry about the tiniest stage, and we need to keep protecting ourselves even through August and September, which is not a very happy message to be giving to people already experiencing tick-borne disease.”

Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on June 3, 2013. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit:

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