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Health Capsules: June 13

By: Lisa Russell

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 all have 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 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

Missouri Baptist Medical Center co-hosts a wellness event, Be Well STL Boot Camp 2018, on Saturday, June 16 from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Westminster Christian Academy, 800 Maryville Centre Drive in Chesterfield. The event is designed to motivate both adults and children to adopt healthy lifestyles, and will feature workout classes from area instructors, inspiring speakers, and a kids’ camp, along with a product marketplace. Admission prices range from $5 to $35. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://ticketsstl.com/events/be-well.

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Missouri Baptist Hospital sponsors free health screenings from noon-4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20 in the pharmacy department of Dierbergs Wildwood Town Center, 2460 Taylor Road in Wildwood. Screenings of glucose, total cholesterol and HDL will be provided.  No appointments or fasting are required for these health screenings.  The Missouri Baptist Mobile Mammography Van also will be on site from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. to provide breast health screenings. Prior registration is required for mammograms by calling (314) 996-5170.  

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Siteman Cancer Center hosts a special program, A Life-Saving Discussion on Breast Cancer, on Friday, June 22 from 9-11 a.m. at Chesterfield Outlets, 17057 N. Outer 40 Road in Chesterfield, in Suite 150. Spend an informative morning with Washington University Physicians Dr. Virginia Herrmann, breast surgeon; Dr. Ron Bose, medical oncologist; and Dr. Cheryl Herman, radiologist, as they discuss the latest advances in breast cancer prevention, screening and treatment. The event includes a light breakfast and a Q&A session with the physicians, as well as a complimentary bra fitting from a Wacoal Specialist, special discounts and a gift for attendees. Register for this free event online at siteman.wustl.edu or by calling (314) 747-7222.

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Cholesterol and glucose wellness screenings are available on Friday, June 22 from 7-10:30 a.m. at the St. Luke’s Hospital Resource Center, 101 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield. A one-on-one consultation with a St. Luke’s registered nurse/health coach is included, along with blood pressure and body composition measurement. A 10-12 hour fast and advance appointments are required. The fee for all screenings is $20. Register online at stlukes-stl.com.

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