The risk of many different diseases increases in elderly patients bitten by ticks, based on the species of the parasite biting them. For example, the Ixodes Scapularis or the Black Legged Tick is very common in the Northeastern and upper Midwestern United States. This species is known to transmit Lyme disease, Babesiosis, Powassan disease and Anaplasmosis. Elderly people are at greatest risks from being bitten in the spring and summer months when they go out on hikes and trails. However, the Lone Star Tick or the Amblyomma americanum is an aggressive tick species that can even look for human hosts in the winter months. Even the female adult American Dog Tick called the Dermacentor variabilis is quite likely to bite humans.
The question is: what is the effect of these tick bites on the elderly patients?
Tick borne Babesiosis can be dangerous in elderly patients
Babesiosis is one of the most dangerous diseases caused by tick bites particularly in elderly patients. It is caused by microscopic bacteria that attack the red blood cells. It is mainly caused by the deer tick or the Black Legged tick. The female and the young nymphs of these ticks are responsible for the spread of the disease. Infected victims rarely recall being bitten as these ticks are very small; almost comparable in size to poppy seeds.
Many cases of tick bite babesiosis in elderly patients are primarily concentrated in parts of New England, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Martha’s Vineyard, Rhode Island etc. Babesios can be a severe or life threatening illness particularly in case of elderly or immune-compromised patients. Typical symptoms of Babesiosis are:
- Flu like symptoms-chills, muscular aches and pains, fever, fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Severe nausea
In extreme cases, tick bite babesiosis can also cause hemolytic anemia due to destruction of red blood cells. In the elderly patients, this disease can be particularly dangerous if the following conditions pre-exist:
- Patient has no spleen or a dysfunctional spleen
- Has weakened immune system due to cancer, chemotherapy, AIDS etc.
- Has liver, kidney or other serious diseases
Symptoms of babesiosis can show up within a few days of being bitten by the tick. Treatment includes antibiotics such as doxycycline and, while majority of the younger patients respond fairly quickly to it, in the elderly, the regular therapy often takes longer to show results. This is further exacerbated by existence of other health conditions.
African Tick bite in Elderly: Is it fatal?
Another serious disease transmitted by ticks is the African Tick bite caused by the Rickettsia Africae which is seen mainly in parts of the Sub Saharan Africa as well as The West Indies. A study has also been conducted on patients of advanced age (63 to 75 years) who developed the symptoms of the African tick bite fever following a visit to South Africa. 4 patients from this group were subjected to a cutaneous eschar biopsy. Majority of tested patients had developed a severe rash along with flu like symptoms. Anorexia and weight loss were also seen in nearly 50% of these tick bite victims. Doxycycline therapy was started which showed favorable results but lingering effects of the disease remained in the elderly patients. The younger patients, however, seemed to recover much faster than the ones with advanced ages.
The study concluded that: “Eco tourism to African (sub Saharan region) is on the rise and majority of the travelers happen to be of advanced age often with existing chronic disorders. African Tick bite fever is more symptomatic in this population and hence doctors must strictly advocate personal prophylactic (preventive) measures to prevent the disease in travelers to this region, particularly elderly patients”.