For the past decade, when Vermonters think about tickborne diseases, they think Lyme disease. And this is for a good reason. In 2016, Vermont had the second highest rate of Lyme disease cases in the United States. However, in the past several years, Vermonters have started to ask questions about other tickborne diseases.
Here, I am going to talk about the different tickborne diseases in Vermont and then how we can prevent them. And yes, it is still important to think about prevention in the winter. On warmer days, ticks may become active and we still may be at risk of getting bitten.
#1: What types of ticks live in Vermont?
According to the Vermont Health Department, there are 13 different species of ticks found in Vermont. The good news is that only five of these species bite humans and even more importantly, only four of these species can cause human disease. Further, 99 percent of the disease-causing ticks in Vermont are the black-legged tick (previously called the deer tick).
Take home message: In Vermont, we need to be most concerned about black-legged ticks causing human disease.
#2: What determines the type of diseases caused by black-legged ticks?
The type of human disease caused by a tick bite depends on the type of pathogen living inside of the tick.
According to Vermont Health Department testing, around 60 percent of black-legged ticks test positive for a pathogen which can cause human disease. Further, they found that 52 percent of these black-legged ticks were infected with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi (causes human Lyme disease. Seven percent were infected with the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum (causes the human disease Anaplasmosis). Four percent of the ticks were co-infected with both bacteria.
Take home message: If you are bitten by a black-legged tick in Vermont (and it was attached for at least 24-36 hrs.), there is a greater risk of getting Lyme disease versus Anaplasmosis.
#3: How common is Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis in Vermont?
According to the Vermont Health Department in 2016, there were 201 confirmed/probable cases of Anaplasmosis and 763 confirmed/probable cases of Lyme disease.
Take home message: Lyme disease is more common than Anaplasmosis in Vermont.
#4: Are there other tickborne diseases in Vermont?
Yes, other tickborne diseases include Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis and the bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi. However, there are only a few cases reported each year.
Take home message: Yes, but they are really rare.
#5: How do you prevent tick bites?
The good news is no matter what tickborne disease we are concerned about, the prevention methods are all the same.
Here are some easy steps we can all take to protect ourselves from tick bites:
- Avoid Ticks. When outdoors, walk in the center of trails and avoid wooded areas
- Repel Ticks. Use 20-30% DEET on skin/clothing. Treat clothing/gear with permethrin
- Remove Ticks. Bathe or shower within 2 hours after spending time outside in tick prone areas. Conduct a full body tick check using a mirror. Inspect pets and gear for ticks. Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on clothing
Take home message: No matter the time of year, tick bite prevent is key!
#6: What does a black-legged tick look like?
An adult black-legged tick is roughly the size of a sesame seed (see image below).
Take home message: Ticks are really tiny.
For more information, visit the Vermont Department of Health Website.
Molly Markowitz is a fourth-year medical student at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.