Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lyme Disease from the Garden: 'Wicked Bugs' Explains Transmission

Wicked Bugs features many fascinating facts and "yarns"
about some of the pests in our gardens.
Book Spotlight
Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects
Author: Amy Stewart
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; 4.3.2011 edition (April 3, 2011)
272 pages
From Amazon...
In this darkly comical look at the sinister side of our relationship with the natural world, Stewart has tracked down over one hundred of our worst entomological foes—creatures that infest, infect, and generally wreak havoc on human affairs. From the world’s most painful hornet, to the flies that transmit deadly diseases, to millipedes that stop traffic, to the “bookworms” that devour libraries, to the Japanese beetles munching on your roses, Wicked Bugs delves into the extraordinary powers of six-and eight-legged creatures.

With wit, style, and exacting research, Stewart has uncovered the most terrifying and titillating stories of bugs gone wild. It’s an A to Z of insect enemies, interspersed with sections that explore bugs with kinky sex lives (“She’s Just Not That Into You”), creatures lurking in the cupboard (“Fear No Weevil”), insects eating your tomatoes (“Gardener’s Dirty Dozen”), and phobias that feed our (sometimes) irrational responses to bugs (“Have No Fear”). Intricate and strangely beautiful etchings and drawings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs capture diabolical bugs  of all shapes and sizes in this mixture of history, science, murder, and intrigue that begins—but doesn’t end—in your own backyard.

From Wicked Bugs...
Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis)

Polly Murray knew that something was seriously wrong with her family. Starting with her first pregnancy in the late 1950s, she suffered from strange unexplained symptoms: painful body aches and fatigue, bizarre rashes, headaches, joint pain, fevers—a catalog of symptoms so long and perplexing that she took to bring a list of them to every doctor appointment. Over the years her husband and three children experienced similar problems. At times it seemed like everyone in the house was either on antibiotics, propped up in bed with joint pain or awaiting another round of test results.
The doctors of her hometown of Lyme, Connecticut, never had any answers; her family tested negative from everything from lupus to seasonal allergies. From a clinical standpoint, there was nothing wrong with them. A few doctors recommended psychiatric treatment, and some offered penicillin or aspirin. There was nothing else they could do.
In 1975, everything changed. Armed with the knowledge that a few of her neighbors has similar problems and that several local children had been diagnosed with an extremely rare juvenile form of rheumatoid arthritis, Murray called an epidemiologist at the state health department. He took down the information but offered no solutions.

A month later, she met a young doctor named Allen Steere. He’d worked briefly at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and was looking for a research project for his postdoctoral fellowship. Connecticut’s state epidemiologist had called to tell him about a cluster of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis cases in Lyme. Steere listened to Murray’s entire story and began an investigation that led to the discovery of a previously unknown tick-transmitted disease. Although the civic leaders in Murray’s hometown were not thrilled by the idea of having a dreadful malady named after their town, the scientist called it Lyme disease, and the name stuck.
Ticks commonly found in North Carolina.

The deer tick, also called the blacklegged tick, lives in a heavily populated areas along the East Coast and it responsible for most cases of Lyme disease in this country. Its ability to transmit the disease depends in part upon its curious life cycle, which can involve three different hosts as it matures. When the larvae first emerge from eggs in the fall, they feed upon rats, mice or birds. They overwinter in the forest floor, and in the spring they molt into nymphs and feed again—this time on small rodents or humans. By late summer the nymphs have become adults that feed on large animals, primarily deer, for the last year or so of their lives.
These tick larvae sometimes take the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi, into their bodies during their first meals.  When that happens, they are capable of transmitting the bacteria the next time they feed. In spite of the name “deer tick,” the deer themselves don’t become infected with Lyme disease. But they do help move ticks around and bring tick populations into close contact with humans. People who live in tick-infested areas know to watch for the telltale bulls-eye rash, called “erythema migrans,” that often occurs at the site of an infected tick bite within the first month of infection.

Lyme disease is nothing new. Medical writings dating back as far as 1550 BC referred to “tick fever,” and European doctors had been investigating symptoms similar to those caused by Lyme disease thought the ninetheenth century. (In Europe the disease is transmitted by the tick Ixodes ricinus, called the castor bean tick for its resemblance to the poisonous seed.) In fact, physicians in Lyme who had been practicing medicine for several decades recalled treating patients in the 1920s and 1930s who had similar symptoms. Today it is the most frequently reported vector-borne illness in the United States, with 25,000-30,000 new infections reported each year.

Did you know:  There are roughly 900 species of ticks found worldwide.

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