New tick-borne illness mimics Lyme disease but often goes undetected

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 13:55 EDT
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Deer tick on human skin via Shutterstock
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More than 100,000 people in New York state are estimated to have been infected with a newly discovered disease that is carried by deer ticks and which mimics the symptoms of Lyme disease. According to CBS-New York, Borrelia miyamotoi disease looks like Lyme, but is a different illness altogether, one that would explain how some people who appear to be suffering from Lyme disease can continue to test negative for the Lyme bacteria.

Borrelia miyamotoi‘s symptoms are virtually identical to Lyme disease (Borrelia bergdorferi), which it is related to, but without the distinctive Lyme skin rash. Dr. Brian Fallon of Columbia University said, “Patients with this illness will develop, perhaps, fever, headache, flu-like symptoms, muscle pains — so they’ll have typical Lyme-like flu symptoms in the spring, summer, early fall.But most of them will not develop the typical rash that you see with Lyme disease.”

Because the patients test negative for Lyme disease, doctors don’t administer antibiotics, said Fallon, “so the patient will have an infection staying in their system longer than it should.”

There is currently no test for Borrelia miyamotoi, but both it and Lyme disease respond to antibiotic treatment if the medicine is administered soon enough. Both diseases are among the array of human-infective diseases carried by ticks.

Lyme and Borrelia miyamotoi are carried by deer ticks, which are native to most wooded areas in the U.S. and usually must feed on a person’s blood for 24 hours before an infection of either disease will take hold.

Deer ticks are small and easy to miss, about the size of a sesame seed. People who spend time outdoors during the temperate months should check themselves all over for ticks each day.

[image of deer tick via Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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