2017-05-11 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. There is concern this year about a surge in the number of people and dogs in the Northeast who’ll be infected with Lyme. You can blame the disease increase on the bumper crop of acorns last fall.

Two ecologists- Felicia Kessing from Bard College and her husband Paul Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecological Studies- have studied Lyme over 20 years in the Hudson Valley upstate. They came up with a way to predict the number of Lyme cases in advance by counting the number of mice the year before. Mice eat acorns so the surplus produced a plague of mice.

Mice are efficient transmitters of Lyme. They infect up to 95 percent of ticks that feed on them. Mice are responsible for infecting the majority of ticks carrying Lyme in the Northeast. And ticks love mice. An individual mouse might have 50, 60, even 100 ticks covering its ears and face which means there will be more Lyme disease this year.

Canine Lyme Disease cases - US 2017/Companion Animal Parasite Council Canine Lyme Disease cases - US 2017/Companion Animal Parasite Council Last November I attended a conference at the Animal Medical Center (The AMC) in NYC. Dr. Richard Goldstein is the chief medical officer at The AMC and a world-renowned expert on infectious disease in dogs and cats, especially those affecting the kidneys such as Lyme disease and leptospirosis. He said, “Lyme is the most common tick-borne infectious disease we encounter other than flu. The good news is that with early diagnosis Lyme can be cured. The bad news is that dog diagnosis is better than detection in humans because we have better tools for detecting Lyme in dogs than what is currently available for humans.”

Lyme was discovered in Old Lyme, CT in the 1970s but a similar Lyme-like illness was known in Europe dating back to the late 1800s. The spirochete bacteria ingested by the deer tick is the infectious culprit. It’s similar in structure to the bacteria causing periodontal disease. Ticks go through four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, adult. Each stage requires a blood meal. Mice are often blood reservoir for larvae. People tend to be infected during the nymph stage in the spring. The nymph needs to be embedded 48 hours to infect. Dogs are more apt to be infected in the summer during the adult tick stage.

Tick prevention should be year round. Ticks become dormant, yet do not die when it’s cold. If we get a warm day in January, they’re active again. Cases of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses are on the rise for several reasons including climate change and larger mouse and deer populations. Even Florida has Lyme cases now. Dr. Goldstein urges those bitten to save the tick or provide photos because different ticks can carry other diseases. The Tick Encounter site provided by the University of RI accepts photos or ticks sent in plastic bags.

Although the CDC has made Lyme reportable in all 50 states, physicians only report about 10% of human cases which amount to around 30,000 each year, whereas a mathematical model projects the true number to be as high as 600,000 cases annually. In contrast, more vets screen dogs for tick diseases which generates a higher prevalence. In 2015, one out of 16 dogs screened tested positive for Lyme, and other tick illnesses like erlichiosis, anaplasmosis or babesiosis. (Rocky Mountain fever is caused by a different tick.)

About 70% of people exposed to Lyme get the bull’s-eye rash. The red circles are caused by the bacteria irritating under the skin. The rash doesn’t itch which makes it easier to miss. It goes away in a month. If discovered right away, Lyme can be cured with antibiotics. When undetected, Lyme can cause flu-like symptoms which can lead to joint pain and neurological signs such as numbness in arms and legs.

Dogs do not develop a bull’s-eye rash, even on their bald bellies. Without treatment with doxcycline, two months later dogs develop joint pain and fever. Dogs do not experience the neurological signs like people but untreated Lyme causes kidney disease (Lyme nephritis) in 1-2% of dogs. Labs and Golden Retrievers are most affected by kidney problems, but every breed is at risk.

Some animals may be affected by Lyme disease more than others. Horses develop Lyme but cows don’t. A study is trying to determine why cows are protected. It’s crucial all dogs and horses are tested for tick ailments. Tests that screen for vector-borne disease -heartworm (from mosquitoes) and tick-borne diseases are done by veterinarians. Nothing like this exists for people who are instead tested with a PCR test which identifies the DNA of bacteria in blood. A vet in Portland, Maine screens cats for Lyme.

Treatment for dogs and people is somewhat similar. Dogs get doxy, penicillin or cephalexin for 30 days. Sometimes they are given two injections of Convenia, an antibiotic which lasts two weeks. People receive doxy but patients with acute Lyme may be put on IV antibiotics. Dr. Goldstein suggested going to an infectious disease specialist if your symptoms persist.

Prevention is the key to controlling Lyme. Amazing diagnostic tools exist to detect Lyme Disease in animals while only limited ones are available for us. People can wear repellent clothing, pull their socks over their long pants or use DEET. They should also check themselves for ticks. To help pets and curtail ticks in the yard, lawns should be kept short because ticks are sensitive to dehydration.

Dog preventives include spot on liquids, collars and oral products. People and pets can be re-infected with Lyme over and over. We tend to re-visit the same places. Re-infection is serious. One study showed people with recurrent signs got Lyme eight times in a 10-year period.

There is no human Lyme vaccine. Developing a vaccine is difficult because the pathogen varies and can look different in many ways. However, there is a new, effective Lyme vaccine for dogs from Zoetis which does recognize the variants. For the time being, we need to be cognizant when venturing into tick-infested areas, check ourselves and pets for ticks and not ignore any new rash.

Waiting for Homes at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Betsy” 17-186 is an older smooth Collie mix with a repertoire of tricks. Below you see her “High Five”. “Teddy Bear” 7-124 is a year-old cat that gets along well with kids and other cats. “Purrfect” family kitty!

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