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Health Capsules: June 27

Take precautions against growing dangers from ticks

Summer is here – bringing an increased risk of tick-borne diseases, which have mushroomed in the U.S. since 2004.

According to a May 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the number of cases of disease caused by mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled between 2004 and 2016. More than 491,000 of the approximately 642,000 cases reported during this time were caused by tick bites – about 76 percent of the total. The CDC estimates, however, that the actual number of tick-borne diseases is much higher than the number of reported cases, meaning these diseases may be rising even more sharply than the statistics suggest.

Lyme disease, the most widely recognized tick-borne illness, made up 82 percent of reported cases during the 13-year period. However, the incidence of anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, both tick-borne bacterial diseases, also rose almost every year, as did spotted fever and babesiosis, a tick-borne parasitic infection that has been identifiable since 2011.

Increased travel and trade, environmental changes and a lack of prevention efforts have all contributed to this problem, said the CDC’s Dr. Lyle Petersen, one of the authors of the new report. “We desperately need to find new ways to deal with ticks and mosquitoes … We need better ways of controlling them and better diagnostic tools.”

Until control methods improve, the best way to deal with tick-borne illness remains preventing bites in the first place. Petersen recommended that people take precautions – including treating clothes and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin, using repellents containing DEET on exposed skin, wearing long pants, long sleeves, high socks and shoes, and conducting full-body tick checks after being outside – to protect themselves from bites.

Of course, it’s not just humans that are susceptible to tick bites and the dangerous illnesses they cause. Vaccines are not available for most of the tick-borne diseases pets can get, and topical and oral treatments to kill ticks often don’t prevent dogs from carrying them into your home. 

In addition, tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect, especially on longer-haired breeds. Signs of disease may not appear for three weeks or longer after a tick bite, so dogs [and outdoor cats] should be watched closely for changes in behavior or appetite if a bite is suspected. 

Although tick repellents and pesticides for use on skin, clothing, or in the yard are considered safe and effective when used as directed, many people are reluctant to use them because of the chemicals they contain.  To provide other, more natural options, scientists have been developing chemical compounds made from plants that can also repel or kill ticks. A few of these include:

2-undecanone: Essential oil from leaves and stems of the wild tomato plant, Lycopersicon hirsutum; can be used on skin, clothing and gear.

Garlic oil: Essential oil from garlic plants; for use on lawns and gardens.

Mixed essential oils [rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, and geraniol]: This plant-based oil can be used on skin, lawns and gardens.

New rabies test could prevent needless and painful treatment

A new rabies test recently developed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] could mean people exposed to potentially rabid animals would not have to undergo the long protocol of painful shots currently used to prevent the deadly disease.

The new test, called LN34, is designed for use in animals, and can more easily and precisely diagnose rabies infection in as little as two hours, according to a study recently published in PLOS One. During the study, the test produced no false negatives, and fewer falsely positive or inconclusive results. It could allow doctors and patients to make faster, better informed decisions about who needs treatment for rabies, which is nearly always fatal once symptoms start.

The LN34 test can be run on testing platforms already widely used in the U.S. and worldwide without any extra training, and gives accurate results even from decomposing animal brain tissue. Currently, rabies testing in animals is done using the direct fluorescent antibody [dFA] test, which can only be interpreted by highly skilled lab workers with special skills, extensive training, and a specific type of microscope, often using refrigerated brain samples.

“The LN34 test has the potential to really change the playing field,” said Crystal Gigante, Ph.D., a CDC microbiologist and one of the study’s authors. “Quickly knowing who needs to receive rabies treatment, and who does not, will save lives and families’ livelihoods.”

On the calendar

A 16-week Head to Toe weight management program for children, teens and their parents begins with orientation sessions on either Tuesday, July 10 or Wednesday, July 18 from 6-7 p.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B but [attendance at one of these two orientation sessions is required to participate].  Regular sessions will meet at the same location on Wednesdays, beginning July 25, from 6-7 p.m. This program helps young people make healthier life choices with support from their parents; classes are taught by an exercise specialist, registered dietitian and social worker. Kids and parents will meet in groups once a week for the first eight sessions, and every other week for the last four sessions. The program is free of charge. To register, call (636) 928-9355.

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BJC offers Know Your Numbers health screenings on both Friday, July 13 and Friday, July 27 from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. These screening tests for adults will include lung function check and blood pressure checks; cholesterol lipid panel and glucose measurements; body composition analysis and body mass index [BMI]. Participants should fast for at least 10 hours prior to screening. All screenings are free, but advance registration is required. Appointments can be made online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events.

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St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors a Staying Home Alone course on Saturday, July 14 from 9-10:30 a.m. at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 6 Jungermann Circle in St. Peters, in the Healthwise Center Conference Room. This class, designed for parents and children to attend together, will help determine a child’s readiness – physically, mentally, socially and emotionally – to stay home alone and help prepare them for this experience. The fee is $25 per family. When calling (314) 454-5437 to register, provide the names of all family members attending.

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