Deer tick transmitted diseases: more than Lyme


Both adult (pictured here…many times its actual size) and nymphal deer ticks can transmit disease. Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA

In the NY Times this morning, an editorial about diseases in addition to Lyme transmitted by deer ticks, and people in the northeast are at the highest risk of exposure.

Other syndromes transmitted by deer ticks are less common than Lyme, but also more likely to be lethal. There is no cure or preventative treatment for any of these. And, we may contract more than one disease simultaneously from a single deer tick.

I hate to sound like an alarmist. If anything, I tend to be a bit too casual about infection, insects, exposure to bacteria and viruses. However, I’m trying to be responsible here because I do know that deer ticks tend to be most present in the fall and spring, so we are entering peak season.

Best practice: if you’re outside during the day–particularly in the woods or near brushy areas–check yourself for deer ticks and try to have someone scan your back.

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1 Comment on “Deer tick transmitted diseases: more than Lyme”

  1. Hank says:

    There is additional research that has been done to show that deer are not necessarily the major vector of the spread of the disease. In some experiments, culling of deer has not reduced the incidence of Lyme disease or infected ticks. However, the prevalence of coyotes (which are increasingly coming in semi-urban areas in North America) and the accompanying displacement of foxes does seem to play a role. Foxes are great devourers of mice (which also carry the disease organism, like deer) while coyotes do not forage for mice to the same extent. In areas where coyote populations have increased and pushed out foxes, incidence of Lyme disease has gone up.

    Clearly, there are some complicated relationships going on here and we need more study to understand them. Also, there used to be a vaccine for Lyme disease (still available for dogs, for example) but it has been withdrawn for humans by the manufacturer; I’m not sure why. I doubt, however, that this vaccine was effective against the other organisms they are now discovering to be carried by deer ticks.

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