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Dog tick is linked to illness
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Scientists have discovered that a very common type of dog tick can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a serious and often-fatal illness that reached historic highs in the United States last year.

Two types of ticks already were known to transmit the disease, but they're not as common and are carried mostly by rodents and dogs that live near wild or rural areas. This is the first time that a tick that routinely plagues house pets has been implicated.

The discovery was made through an investigation of Arizona's first outbreak, involving 16 cases and two deaths in the last few years.

Health officials don't want people to panic or think this will become a nationwide epidemic, because they've only found these infected ticks in Arizona. But the newly implicated tick lives everywhere in the world, and experts have been stumped by many unexplained cases of the disease around the United States.

"We may have been missing this in the past," said Linda Demma, who led the study for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's almost certainly occurring in other places and not diagnosed," agreed J. Stephen Dumler, an expert on the disease at Johns Hopkins University. He wrote an editorial accompanying a report of the CDC study in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever was first recognized a century ago in Idaho but has spread through much of the United States. More than half of cases are reported from the south-Atlantic states -- Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Oklahoma and North Carolina have reported the most.

The disease is caused by bacteria that infect ticks, which then bite and infect animals and people.

Symptoms occur five to 10 days later and can include fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite and severe headache -- signs often mistakenly attributed to common viral ailments. Late symptoms include a spotted rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea.
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