Local News

Man's Best Friend Tipping People Off To Another Tickborne Disease

Posted April 10, 2002

— North Carolina consistently ranks as one of the worst regions of the nation for the tick disease Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but there is a lesser known and potentially deadly tickborne disease that has sickened over a dozen people in North Carolina since 1999. However, man's best friend may be tipping people off to the problem.

Ehrlichiosis is carried by ticks, and it can infect both dogs and people. It is showing up in more veterinary screenings.

"As a profession, we learned about Ehrlichiosis through our experience in Vietnam, where military-working dogs actually died in epidemic proportions over there," veterinarian Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt said.

When the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine opened in the mid-1980s, in the very first month, a whole kennel of dogs was found to be infected. The first human cases were confirmed in the state about 10 years later.

"What make Ehrlichiosis such an important disease in dogs is literally the dog can be exposed today, infected after a tick bite and not develop disease signs for two or three years," Breitschwerdt said.

Veterinarians have a new test to detect the disease in dogs. Many have found that the number of those infected have increased.

"Last year at this hospital, we tested positive for Ehrlichiosis more than I did for heartworm," veterinarian Dr. Betsy Sigmon said.

Sigmon points out that your family pet may actually be serving as a warning system. Humans cannot catch the disease from the family dog. Humans have to be bitten directly by a tick, but an increase in dog cases could mean the risk for humans is increasing.

"Actually, I'm probably as concerned about owners as I am about pets. At least, my pets are having some sort of consistent flea and tick control," Sigmon said.

Experts said the best protection for your dog as well as yourself is to keep a sharp eye out for ticks after every trip to the woods or fields.

Interestingly, animal and human medical researchers have been working very closely together on the disease. They said that if a tick is removed within 24 to 48 hours after the first bite, transmission of the disease may be prevented.

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