A new disease-causing bacterium, Borrelia miyamotoi, is confirmed as the cause of meningoensephalitis in a Hunterdon County woman. Research scientists have discovered a new illness similar to Lyme disease, which is also transmitted by the dastardly deer tick. That now makes 5 pathogens known to be transmitted by this tiny parasite, no bigger than a poppy seed.
The disease is so new that it hasn’t yet been named, nor is there a test available for doctors to screen for it. Several companies are working to develop a test that will hopefully be available this summer. B. miyamotoi was discovered about a decade ago, but was never known to cause illness in humans until last year in Russia, when it was linked to recurring fevers in 46 cases. 80-year-old Anna Felix, of Kingwood Township, was the first confirmed case in North America of this rare disease in January this year. After several months of declining health, family and doctors thought that an earlier bout with cancer was recurring, but tests found nothing. Dr. Joseph Gugliotta, an infectious disease physician at Hunterdon Medical Center, recommended a spinal tap, which confirmed the cause.
This is an important discovery for an estimated 4,000 people each year that have likely been sickened by this disease, but tested negative for Lyme disease. The ability to finally properly diagnosis this will help doctors provide quicker treatment, which is currently the same antibiotics used to treat Lyme.
People living in areas of high Lyme incidence, especially those with compromised immune systems, need to be aware of this new disease. Go to our “Tips” page for information on how to reduce your exposure to ticks and tick-borne illnesses.
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