With Thanksgiving past, I have taken inventory of my blessings. Some fall on a short list — family (two- and four-legged), good health, education and a career that I love. On the long list are walks in our woods, beautiful landscapes and nature in general.
Oh, and did I mention Daylight Saving Time? While it can be a hassle for our bodies to adjust to “falling back,” I see this as a blessing, for farmers and for me. It’s about beating the clock to get home to “play outside” before the sun sets.
However, when my work days run long in the fall, sometimes the clock still wins. I remind myself on my drive home in darkness to keep a watchful eye for romantic or hungry deer. I am especially cautious when approaching areas close to woods, recently harvested fields and ditch banks, knowing these are places deer are traversing. The sad sighting of the occasional carcass lying along my route becomes a rude reminder to keep my eyes peeled for that heart-stopping moment when deer appear seemingly out of nowhere, as startled to see me, as I to see them.
All of this reflection about deer reinforces my need to educate everyone not just about the automobile hazards deer present at this time of year, but also the disease risks they bring all year round. As a profession, veterinarians are charged with educating people about preventing “zoonoses,” or diseases transmitted from animals to humans directly, or indirectly via an intermediate host (vector), such as a tick or mosquito.
Lyme Disease or “Borreliosis,” is a zoonosis transmitted to humans and animals via the common deer tick, Ixodes scapularis (black-legged tick). Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete bacterium introduced into the tissues of humans and animals when a deer tick feeds, causes Lyme Disease. Symptoms in humans and animals may be absent for weeks, then may be vague at best, making recognition and diagnosis of Lyme Disease difficult.
In pets, Lyme disease is more common to dogs, although cats may be infected as well. Both species share similar symptoms of Lyme Disease with humans, primarily lethargy, fatigue and joint pain, with or without swelling. In canines, we may only see symptoms in 5 to 10 percent of infected patients. This makes routine screening of pets, especially dogs who are seen in veterinary facilities more commonly than cats, very important. Having a pulse on the positive cases of Lyme Disease in dogs, gives us a perspective on how prevalent the disease might be in our human population as well.
Ohio is considered an “emergent state” for Lyme Disease due to a growing incidence of Lyme positive human and animal cases diagnosed in neighboring Pennsylvania and Indiana, and now in Ohio. Positive human cases in Ohio date back to 1986, but are on the rise, presumably due to an increase in the deer tick population. According to the Ohio Department of Health, as of Nov. 1 of this year, 1,825 human cases of Lyme disease have been diagnosed in Ohio, with 100 to 150 cases being diagnosed each year since 2014.
Veterinarians have the important responsibility to screen, diagnose and treat any positive cases of Lyme Disease in their patients. A “Test, Treat and Vaccinate” protocol should be in place in every veterinary hospital. Lyme blood testing is commonly performed annually at the same time as canine heartworm testing and will include screening for other tick-borne diseases as well. Treatment of tick-borne diseases with oral medication, can be simple and economical, especially when diagnosed before symptoms occur.
Most importantly, several vaccines are now available to prevent Lyme Disease in dogs. Your veterinarian may also make a recommendation to improve your pet’s tick prevention with the advent of several newer, safe, highly effective, ORAL flea and tick control medications, such as beef-flavored Nexgard chews.
Some final words of caution … while veterinarians can diagnose, vaccinate and treat your pet for Lyme Disease, we can’t entirely protect YOU, the pet owner! Please remember to protect yourself from tick bites by avoiding areas of tall vegetation and woods where ticks thrive and “dine.” When frequenting such areas, tuck your pants inside your socks, wear long-sleeved clothing and hats, and walk in the center of trails. According to the Center for Disease Control, insect repellents containing 20 to 30 percent DEET may be applied to exposed skin and clothing. After visiting high risk areas, perform an immediate, thorough examination of your body and scalp, and bathe within two hours to find and wash off ticks. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of Lyme Disease cure, too!
Dr. Bonnie Jones is co-owner of Delphos Animal Hospital which she operates with her husband, John H. Jones, DVM. She was valedictorian and Outstanding Senior Clinician of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1985.