Health/Fitness

Tick borne illness death reported in N.C.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

State health officials say Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is to blame for the death of a Wilkes County resident.

This is the first tick-borne disease death of the season.

North Carolina leads the nation in reported cases of RMSF and experts say the number of ticks out this season may be worse than years past.

Experts are blaming the high number of ticks on the mild and wet winter. Tick bites can cause serious illness even death if untreated according to health officials. So, when retired marine and Delta pilot Dave Tierney remembered he had been bitten, he feared the worst. "I went back and got my military records and there it was in 1994," said Tierney. "A tick bite with a classic style bulls-eye rash. Finally in 2000 it really became debilitating for me. I got misdiagnosed as MS, autoimmune disease, and, I finally went to a Lyme doctor last year who said, 'David, I think you have Lyme disease.'" Lyme disease is one tick borne illness found in North Carolina along with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis. Health officials say all can be treated early with antibiotics. Flu-like symptoms or a bulls-eye rash is usually the first sign of trouble. For Tierney, it got worse from there. "Brain fog, dizziness, confusion, anxiety," explains Tierney. Because of his experience, Tierney is now on a mission to educate others about ticks. At Umstead Park in Cary, he picks up dozens in minutes by dragging a towel tied to a stick through grass. "I'd say we got 40 or 50 ticks," said Tierney. Experts say this tick season might be particularly bad because of the mild and wet winter. As of July 5, state public health officials say there have been 95 reported cases of tick borne illnesses across North Carolina-including the death of a Wilkes County resident from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. "You can't see it, and a lot of people never recall a tick bite," cautions Tierney. "So, they have all these symptoms and they test negative." Protecting yourself with repellants, long, light-colored clothing so ticks can be seen and body inspections is key according to experts. And it's something Dave Tierney does daily after years of suffering from a small bite.

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