Warm winter, early spring spawn bumper crop of ticks in Georgia

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Gardeners and pet owners across Georgia are seeing more ticks this year, but confirmed cases of tick-borne diseases remain low.

“We’re seeing ticks earlier and in greater numbers this year – probably because of our warm winter,” said Suleima Salgado, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Prevalence of our most common, the lone star tick, usually peaks in the summer and shouldn’t be here this early, but it is.”

Ticks are arachnids, not insects, and their closest relatives are spiders, scorpions and horseshoe crabs. They die off or become dormant in winter, but their numbers can increase rapidly during extended warm weather.

Although the creatures are widely reviled for their affinity to attach themselves to people, pets and wildlife, the potentially dangerous diseases they can carry occur in relatively low numbers in Georgia and South Carolina.

“Georgia had 58 confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2011 and 103 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” Salgado said, adding that the East Central Health District, which includes Augusta and surrounding counties, yielded no cases of Lyme disease in 2011 and just three Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases.

Despite a bumper crop of ticks this year, Georgia has had no Lyme disease cases confirmed and just three cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, none of them in the East Central district, she said.

Health officials in South Carolina also say tick-borne illness is rare, even if ticks are plentiful and aggressive this year.

“Tens of thousands of bites occur every year, but just a small proportion result in any kind of disease transmission,” said Adam Myrick, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control.

During 2011, he said, 22 cases of Lyme disease were confirmed statewide, along with 13 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

He was unsure whether any cases have been confirmed this year, but said hospitals, labs and medical facilities are required to disclose cases of either ailment.

“Both of those diseases are reportable to us within one week,” Myrick said.

Although Georgia’s tick-borne illness numbers are low, diagnosing those ailments and identifying trends can be challenging.

“Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most common tick-borne disease we see,” Salgado said. “Lyme disease is pretty rare.”

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, both clinically by physicians and with the national case definition used by public health.

“Many cases report arthritis as the only symptom, which may be explained by other medical issues or ailments, but physicians report and treat the patient as if it were Lyme disease,” she said. “Only a small percentage of these report the traditional erythema migrans (bull’s-eye) rash; therefore, many of these cases may not truly be Lyme disease.”

Tick-borne surveillance is passive, meaning state officials investigate only cases that are reported to public health by physicians, hospitals and laboratories.

“Increased or decreased frequency of testing by physicians influence the number of cases that are reported,” she said.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Fact Sheet:


Georgia Lyme Disease Association:



• More than 770 distinct species of ticks inhabit every corner of the planet.

• Ticks are arachnids – not insects – and are related to scorpions and spiders.

• Ticks have been studied since 1758, when first described by Swiss naturalist Carl Linnaeus.

• The world’s largest tick, fatter than a pecan, is Amblyomma varium, native to South America.

• Evidence from fossilized amber shows ticks have been around at least 100 million years.

• The U.S. National Tick Collection, owned by the Smithsonian Institution, is housed at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, with about 1 million specimens.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/03/12 - 01:54 pm
Slow news day. I think I

Slow news day.

I think I would have used "population" rather than "crop" - - - - - - - -

Georgia Lyme Disease Association
Georgia Lyme Disease Association 05/14/12 - 02:18 pm
Public health officials misinformed about Lyme

We thank Mr. Pavey for his article calling attention to tick-borne diseases. Unfortunately, there are problems with this report. The lack of recognition of Lyme disease in Georgia is a serious issue. Within 10 miles of me, three men are now in wheelchairs only 2-3 years after receiving tick bites followed by rashes. Each was told Lyme disease is not here so they were not treated. They discovered later they have Lyme disease but it's too late. Within the same ten miles, there are ten children infected, three can no longer attend school, one has seizures. The denial of Lyme disease in our region turns an easily treatable infection into an avoidable chronic illness.

Contrary to the statements made by state officials, the Georgia Lyme Disease Association hears from hundreds of Georgians who contract Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses each year. Other organizations in surrounding states report similar numbers. Thousands of cases are dismissed as “not Lyme disease” in the South and are never reported.

Ms. Salgado’s misinformed suggestion that only those with an erythema migrans rash are true Lyme disease cases serves to further confuse medical providers and the public. Published medical literature spanning 20-30 years proves 20 to 30% of Lyme patients never get a rash; some studies report a rash occurs in as few as 50% of cases.

Ms. Salgado stated, “Lyme disease is pretty rare”, but Georgia was 4th highest in the nation in CDC reported LD cases in 1989 with 715 on record. The CDC documented native cases in 27 Georgia counties. Since then, reporting practices in Southeastern states have been changed and restricted, a fact that officials fail to mention. What counts as a case in the Northeast is routinely dismissed in the Southeast, making Lyme disease prevalence here impossible to determine and national statistics incomparable. Citizens don’t contract Lyme disease two and three times and people don’t report multiple family members infected if a disease is “rare” within a region. We hear these reports all the time. (In one 25-mile radius in Georgia, over 150 people claim they’ve contracted Lyme disease.) Many patients and physicians try to report cases to officials; they are dismissed instead of investigated. Former NIH Senior Investigator Dr. David Volkman described the baffling circular reasoning: “We don’t have Lyme disease here so we don’t report it; We don’t report it, so we don’t have Lyme disease here.”

Lyme disease bacteria have been found in thousands of tick and animal specimens from across our region for over 20 years. Scientists have documented more Lyme Borrelia species (7) and strains (hundreds) in the Southeastern USA than in any region of the country. There is evidence that several strains are infectious and current tests may not detect many of these, further restricting reported case numbers. Still, the CDC discourages medical providers outside the Northeast from even testing symptomatic tick bite patients. Doctors are told Lyme disease is rare here and to dismiss positive test results as “false”. These dangerous, unproven assertions prevent Lyme disease cases from being recognized and treated in the early stages, when the disease is far easier to treat.

Mr. Myrick asserted that only a small proportion of the tens of thousands of annual tick bites result in any kind of disease transmission. However, since 1) these diseases often go unrecognized and undiagnosed; 2) testing for many tick-borne diseases is unreliable; 3) most tick-borne illnesses are not even reportable, it’s impossible to assess how many people contract tick-borne diseases. There are over a dozen disease-causing organisms ticks in the Southeastern United States can transmit to humans including Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease); Borrelia miyamotoi and Borrelia turicatae (Relapsing fever); Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever); Rickettsia parkeri; Rickettsia amblyommii; Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii; Bartonella (several species); Babesia microti; Babesia duncani; Anaplasma; Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) and Francisella tularensis(Tularemia or "Rabbit Fever"). Many are newly identified and researchers expect to discover more.

Medical professionals should be cautioned, alerted, and educated about the presence of Lyme borrelia, the insensitive testing and the other tick-borne pathogens in our region. According to patients, the majority of tick-borne illnesses are not even on most medical providers’ diagnostic radar screens.

Southerners are outdoors year round due to our mild climate. As noted, there are tens of thousands of tick bites annually. While chances of contracting a disease from a single tick bite may be minimal, with numerous bites, the odds greatly increase. It is logical to investigate the role of tick borne diseases in patients suffering from chronic illnesses. Much suffering could be alleviated if we open our eyes to the evidence directly in front of us and stop asserting unproven assumption as fact.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal proclaimed May, “Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Awareness Month.” We urge Georgia medical providers and citizens to become better educated about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Precautions to prevent tick bites must be taken seriously. If you become ill following a tick bite, please, consult a tick-borne disease knowledgeable physician immediately. It could save your life.

Liz Schmitz
Georgia Lyme Disease Association

Ptcgirl 05/14/12 - 07:58 pm
Lyme is NOT rare

Speaking as a parent of a child diagnosed with Lyme living in Peachtree city, Georgia, Lyme is not rare at all. There are at least six other cases of Lyme at our church alone.

laura rae
laura rae 05/14/12 - 09:35 pm
Inaccurate informmation on Lyme Disease in Georgia

In a word..Amazing...Amazing at how inaccurate the information is in this article. Lyme Disease stats are highly inaccurate in Georgia and many states due to a) Highly inaccurate testing methods b) Patients are misdiagnosed with other conditions such as ALS, MS, Parkinson's, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, colitis, and the list goes on. c) Physicians are not educated on what to look for when evaluating a patient for Lyme (if they even consider it as a diagnosis) or how to clinically diagnose a patient based on Lyme symptoms. They are not comfortable diagnosing a patient based on symptomology because they are not trained properly. D) Patients fortunate enough to receive an accurate diagnosis through a much more accurate Lyme test lab panel, may not be reported as CDC positive to the health department. E) Thousands of Georgia residents travel outside the state and could contract the disease on vacation or business and bring it back to Georgia. Hence, state statistics should not really matter. Let's acknowledge the fact that Lyme disease is a national health crisis and is at epidemic proportions in the US, including Georgia. Why do I feel this way? I was a victim of our uneducated healthcare system. I saw approximately 20 MD's and specialists in two states before I insisted to be tested with the most accurate Lyme test panel available (not covered by insurance). I suffered horrifically for five years before receiving a diagnosis and it has ruined my life. Anyone reading this needs to need warning: this disease does not discriminate and it will cost you thousands of $$$$ to receive proper treatment if you are diagnosed late. It is called a disease for the wealthy. If you want to make sure that you do not lose your job, health insurance, home and marriage, go to www.ilads.org to learn the real facts on Lyme. Contact your state senators and local congressman to insist our state provide funding for physicain training and to change the highly incorrect IDSA treatment guidelines. Otherwise, you will be paying to travel to a Lyme literate physician in the northeast and pay dearly to restore your health.

clem 05/14/12 - 09:44 pm
Southerners with tickborne diseases are getting the shaft

The reported number of cases has almost no relationship to the actual number of tickborne disease cases in this state, and probably not anywhere in the south.

My primary care doctor, who does not treat lyme, has 4 or 5 lyme patients in his practice. If you multiple the number of doctors in the state times this figure, you might get a more accurate number. But then, that would assume that everyone with lyme got diagnosed, and we know that is not true.

It took three years for me to finally get the correct diagnosis and by then it was chronic. This is a disease that must be caught early, and very few are in Georgia. I have to travel out of state to get treatment. Does that tell you what the state of medical care is here?

Lyme RN
Lyme RN 05/14/12 - 10:10 pm
Lyme disease denied in Georgia

Sadly, as a medical professional myself, I have witnessed personally the denial pertaining to transmission of lyme disease in Georgia. If the disease is denied, positive lyme serologies dismissed as false positives, and symptoms attributed to psychosomatic rather than infectious then yes there is no reporting of this. The CDC allows this by stating that since the lyme testing is not accurate, diagnosis is only made by history of a tick bite or exposure, a positive lyme elisa followed by a positive lyme western blot and symptoms suggesting lyme infection. It is a judgement call and sadly, most Doctor's are are unable to correctly make the diagnosis. Thousands of people are denied appropriate and life saving medical care.

It is my personal experience that lyme is very common in Georgia especially given our high deer population, climate and access to heavily wooded areas.

Most patients who contract lyme disease in Georgia are not able to get medical treatment and must travel out of the state to areas who are familiar with how to diagnosis and treat the infection. If not caught early, the infection can become chronic causing permanent damage to joints, muscles, organs and the nervous system. It can be very difficult to treat and many remain ill.

It truly is disheartening to hear that this state is still claiming to have rare cases of lyme disease. The truth of the matter being "rare reported" cases. The infectious bacteria is all too common in the south and until the CDC acknowledges this, there will always remain a low number of reported cases while thousands suffer the consequence.

kajay 05/14/12 - 10:53 pm
no proper testing or treatment available or offered in GA

I live in central GA and have to travel to another state to find a doctor who 1) seems to know anything about Lyme 2) will test me at all without an argument and righteously indignant insistence that I will pay for the thing and 3) will prescribe an antibiotic for longer than two weeks. Here is a challenge for the authors of this article. Go to the mall or to the grocery store. Ask random people there if they know what Lyme is and if they know anyone who has it. You will probably not be able to finish your question before they are telling you about who they are related to and live next to who have or have had it--or about how they got it. Most people in the real world do know about Lyme because it IS prevalent.

jwport 05/14/12 - 11:25 pm

What is really scarey is that it took the Doctors almost 2 years to diagnose me with what I was told is LATE STAGE 2 LYMES DISEASE. The disease can be stopped and cured if caught but the damage it does in 2 years can not be reversed.

Lyme in Brantley County
Lyme in Brantley County 05/15/12 - 09:24 am
Misinformation about Ticks and Lyme

I had many tick bites here in South East Georgia around 1997-1998, developed many symptoms over the years and visits to several different doctors with no doctors suggesting the possibility I had Lyme. 2009, I went to see a Dr in Jacksonville, Fl who ordered multiple tests and some that came back positive for Lyme Disease. I was retested in 2010, still positive for Lyme but also positive for Babesia infection.

Doctors in SE Georgia do not believe Lyme exists here and I have been unable to find a Dr who will treat my infections.

There is too much misinformation about Lyme being spread around and Lyme is easy to get and hard to cure ......contrary to popular opinion.

I know of many people in Georgia who have Lyme and got their infection here in Georgia.

laura rae
laura rae 05/17/12 - 12:39 pm
Educating our Medical Students at MCG on the Real Facts

Lyme is on the rise on Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia needs to play a proactive role in providing accurate information/education to the faculty and students on Lyme and tickborne disease.
I strongly encourage the administration at MCG to make it a priority to contact www.ilads.org and develop a partnership with this leading international society. ILADS and MCG could work on creating a core curricum class for ALL MCG Professors, medical and dental students.

Choosing a career in medicine usually stems from the desire in wanting to help people. Making a timely diagnosis (clinical symptoms) and saving lives is what any ethical physician would want for his/her patients.
Since current laboratory tests for Lyme are highly inaccurate, it is more critical than ever to train future physicians on the myriad of symptoms which can manifest as a result of tickborne disease. A rash is not present in over 50% of Lyme patients.
As the leading medical school in Georgia, I hope the MCG administration will step up to the plate and recognize they need to take a proactive role in educating our future physicans and alumni on this epidemic that is growing faster than HIV/Aids.

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