A new tick-borne disease may make those already wary of Lyme disease even more anxious to venture outdoors.
However, doctors say people shouldn’t panic. There’s a treatment for this new disease if you get bitten and develop symptoms. There are also simple steps you can take to prevent tick bites.
What is Borrelia miyamotoi?
The new disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi, which is in the same group of bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
In fact, these bacteria share many things in common.
“These two pathogens overlap very much — same ticks carrying it, same kinds of prevention, and the treatment is nearly identical,” said Dr. Ashley Larrimore, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Right now, B. miyamotoi is found in 1 to 5 percent of ticks that carry it, compared with 15 to 30 percent for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
But this could change in the near future.
“B. miyamotoi is carried by the same ticks that carry Lyme disease, and we’re seeing increases in Lyme, so we’re probably going to see increases in this new pathogen,” said Larrimore.
In the United States, the ticks that carry these bacteria are the black-legged (deer) tick and the western black-legged tick. They’re found in both the eastern and western parts of the country.
So far, though, there’ve been fewer than 60 well-documented cases of people in the country being infected by B. miyamotoi, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Symptoms of Borrelia miyamotoi
B. miyamotoi infection causes flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, sweats, headache, joint pain, and fatigue. It can also cause a relapsing fever, in which symptoms improve and then return.
Symptoms appear between 12 and 16 days after a tick bite.
These symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, with one exception.
“The big difference is that people with Lyme disease almost always get a rash. You may not see that with B. miyamotoi,” said Larrimore.
Larrimore added that B. miyamotoi can also cause other less common symptoms, including “confusion, headaches, abdominal pain, or problems with walking.”
These can occur in healthy people but are more likely in people with a compromised immune system due to causes such as HIV, chemotherapy, or immunosuppressant medications.