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Pet Owners May Be at Increased Risk for Tick-Borne Diseases

JUL 18, 2017 | KERRY LENGYEL
Research coming in from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, finds that pet owners are at increased risk of encountering ticks.

Lyme disease is one of the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States, with around 300,000 cases reported every year. Recently, researchers reported that risk of tick-borne disease may be “drastically underestimated” in the western United States. Now, results from this study, published online in Zoonoses and Public Health, show that owning a pet dog or cat can more than double the risk that the pet owner in the household will find a tick on him/herself, and thus, may be at increased risk for tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease.

In their study, the researchers surveyed 2727 households in Connecticut, Maryland, and New York—states where Lyme disease is endemic, and tick exposure is highest. More than half of the households owned a dog, a cat, or both, and about 88% said they used some type of tick control on their pets.
 
About 31% of households with pets reported finding a tick crawling on a human in the household, compared with only 20% of households without pets. In addition, 19% of those in pet-owning households found a tick attached to a human in the home; this occurred in 14% of households without pets. Study authors also note that about 20% of households with pets reported finding ticks on their pets. However, when looking at the prevalence of tick-borne diseases, the research team found no difference between pet-owning and households without pets—both reported 20% verified tick-borne illness.
 
“It makes sense that people who have pets, especially dogs, are more likely to be around fields or areas where ticks could be hanging out,” said Bruno Chomel, DrSc, DVM, MS, PhD, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who was not part of this study. “Pets can bring these parasites into the human environment, especially if they sit on couches or sleep in beds with owners.”
 
Besides owning a pet, researchers also believe that certain characteristics of properties may correlate with the difference in numbers, such as owning a vegetable garden, compost pile, or log pile.
 
“Ticks can transmit disease to people and their pets, particularly in the warmer months when [ticks] are most active,” said lead study author Erin H. Jones, MS. Therefore, particularly during the summer months, practitioners should be on the look-out for early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, such as fever, chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.


In an exclusive interview with Contagion ®, Pat Smith, President of the Lyme Disease Association, Inc. touched on many preventative products for Lyme disease. Among them, she discussed a potential new Lyme disease vaccine that may be coming down the pike. She said, “Now, there is a new vaccine from a company in France that the FDA just approved to begin the first stages of seeing if this vaccine will be safe in humans. But it is an OspA-based vaccine, so, of course, we’re all waiting to see how have they solved the problems from the original OspA vaccine. The new vaccine is using many different OspAs, not just from the bacteria here in the United States, [rather], from other places in the world.”

Until a safe and effective vaccine is available, individuals should take the proper preventive measures against tick-borne diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers material on preventive measures that individuals can take to prevent tick bites. The authors also recommend that all pets and individuals living in pet-owning households be checked daily for ticks.
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