Hospitals see spike in tick-borne illness

07/27/2013 10:00 AM |

DAN GILREIN COURTESY PHOTO | Deer ticks are behind a sudden surge in babesiosis cases on the East End.

Three East End hospitals have reported a spike in one of six tick-borne illnesses commonly seen on Long Island, hospital officials said.

Though Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the best known, “this year we’ve seen a surge of babesiosis cases,” said Dr. Gary Rosenbaum, an infectious disease physician with Peconic Bay Medical Center.

Dr. Lawrence Schiff, director of emergency care at Eastern Long Island Hospital, and Deborah Maile, director of infection prevention at Southampton Hospital, also said they have seen an uptick in patients coming in with the disease.

Babesiosis is a curable illness spread by the blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, said Daniel Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

The tick’s bite transfers pathogens that can trigger severe anemia in humans, killing red and white blood cells and platelets – especially in patients who are missing a spleen or have a weakened immune system, Dr. Rosenbaum said.

“[The initial symptoms] are the most severe of the six tick-borne diseases that we get here on Long Island,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Peconic Bay has treated about 13 patients for babesiosis since June, many of whom were landscapers and others who work outdoors, he said.

Four patients had been diagnosed with Lyme disease during that same period in the past month. Lyme disease, commonly known by the symptoms of a distinct bull’s eye rash, is also caused by the deer tick, Mr. Gilrein said.

Dr. Rosenbaum said hospital officials have also seen four cases of anaplasmosis, caused by deer tick; and one confirmed case of ehrlichiosis, caused by the lone star tick.

Southampton officials are currently working on getting lab results for about 50 patients with tick-borne illness symptoms, Ms. Maile said.

She has been working on putting together a data set comparing diagnoses year to year. In June the hospital reported 18 cases of babesiosis, up from 11 cases in June 2012. She said there has also been an increase in cases of Lyme.

Peconic Bay officials are urging patients to be on the lookout for symptoms.

“All of these illnesses are curable if caught early,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Common symptoms include high fever, severe headaches, dark urine, skin rashes and circular “bull’s-eye” rashes, he said. A person experiencing any of these symptoms should be checked out by a doctor as soon as possible, he said, advising that patients check themselves thoroughly for ticks – especially the scalp, groin areas, backside and armpits.

Like mosquitoes, ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide given off by humans and animals.

“A tick can detect your carbon dioxide from over a mile away and start coming towards you,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Mr. Gilrein said while he has yet to complete a tick population survey this season, he has received calls concerning an increase in lone star ticks in some areas.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County research group has a diagnostic lab in Riverhead that will identify ticks for a small fee, Mr. Gilrein said. While the lab does not test for which pathogens the ticks are carrying, he said having a tick identified can still be helpful for physicians. To have a tick identified, contact the diagnostic lab at Cornell at 631-727-4126 or visit http://ccesuffolk.org/new-page-2-143/ for more information.

cmiller@timesreview.com

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