Arkansas has some of the highest levels of tickborne diseases of any state in the nation and another big year is expected. In 2012, over 900 cases of tickborne diseases (TBD) were reported to the Arkansas Department of Health. These included the four diseases: Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Tularemia. Five of these cases resulted in death. Cases were found in 63 counties, with illnesses occurring every month of the year but peaking in June. Because many of these illnesses go unreported, the actual number of those made sick from tick-related disease is much higher.
According to Susan Weinstein, DVM, MPH, Zoonotic Disease Section Chief at the Arkansas Department of Health, “Tick-related illnesses are serious and can be deadly if not treated properly. It is very important that people realize the seriousness of the infections that some ticks can carry, and to see their doctor if ill. Thankfully, we can prevent many of these infections if we become aware of the risks and take some simple precautions.”
If left untreated, some of these infections can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Steps to prevent disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat.
Several tickborne illnesses are common in Arkansas.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most common tickborne disease in Arkansas. It is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. This bacterium is carried mostly by the American dog tick, but also by the brown dog tick. Not all ticks are infected. It takes an infected tick several hours to spread disease after attaching to a person. Most RMSF cases occur between June and August when tick populations and outdoor activities are highest.
Anaplasmosis is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum. It was previously known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE). Anaplasmosis is spread to humans by bites primarily from the blacklegged tick. In Arkansas, these ticks are commonly found in shady areas along roads, meadows and woods. The risk of picking up these ticks is greater in wooded or brushy areas and in the edge area between lawns and woods.
Ehrlichiosis is the name used to describe several bacterial diseases that affect animals and humans. Human ehrlichiosis (formerly called human monocytic ehrlichiosis or HME) is caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii. These bacteria are spread to humans by the bite of the lone star tick.
Tularemia is a disease of animals and humans caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Rabbits, hares and rodents are especially susceptible and often die in large numbers during outbreaks. Humans can become infected through several routes, including tick bites, including the American dog tick and the lone star tick; deer fly bites;d skin contact with infected animals, especially hunting and skinning infected rabbits; ingestion of contaminated water; inhalation of contaminated dusts or aerosols.
Symptoms of tickborne diseases can include fever, headache, muscle pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and rash.