Tahoe Basin a ‘hotbed’ for rare tick fever | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Basin a ‘hotbed’ for rare tick fever

Amanda Fehd
Sun News Service

Soft tick

A rare tick-borne disease is making its rounds at Tahoe at an unprecedented pace, according to health officials.

Tick-borne relapsing fever is non-lethal in most cases, but can result in serious complications if left untreated.

People contract the disease from soft ticks, which live in the nests of small animals like mice and chipmunks. Rustic, rodent-infested cabins are often a source of the disease.

“The Tahoe Basin is becoming a hotbed for this disease,” said El Dorado County Health Officer Jason Eberhart-Phillips.

Five cases were reported here last year, and health officials have identified three cases so far this summer.

There are only about 25 cases of tick-borne relapsing fever in the United States each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, but the disease is endemic to high-altitude, coniferous Western forests.

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Doctors in the area are well aware of the disease and will recognize its symptoms, said Ginger Huber with El Dorado County’s Department of Environmental Management.

“It’s kind of like plague, we know it’s endemic to our area, people just need to be aware of it and take the proper precautions,” Huber said. Bubonic plague has occurred in the Sierras, but no recent cases have been reported.

“The most important thing is to not sleep in rustic cabins or homes that have obvious rodent infestations,” she said.

A woman who lived in an urban home in Tahoe contracted a serious case of the illness last year. The home was being remodeled and birds had bored holes that allowed rodents to enter the walls and build nests.

Soft ticks usually bite at night and transmit the disease within minutes of finding a host, so people usually do not know that they have been bitten.

Patients experience high fevers and flu-like symptoms that last about three days then disappear, then come back after about seven days. The relapsing fevers can occur up to 10 times in people who are not treated, according to the CDC.

CDC estimates the disease is fatal in 5 to 10 percent of cases if left untreated.

Humans are not the only ones feeling the heat of tick-borne relapsing fevers; pets are suffering too.

Ticks of all kinds spread diseases that can cause raging fevers in dogs, said Dr. Bree Montana of Agate Bay Animal Hospital in Kings Beach. And while tick-borne illnesses are treatable, the process is often a long one and fevers can be difficult to detect in dogs.

“It’s so much safer to prevent ticks than it is to treat them ” I tell then to use Frontline, a product that lasts on the dog’s skin for 30 days and makes the ticks not want to bite your dog,” she said.

” Christine Stanley, Sierra Sun