With Lyme, Anaplasmosis and Babesia on the rise here in Maine and the two recently reported cases of Powassan in the Midcoast region, how are we to know and understand what tick-borne diseases we have (potentially) been exposed to if we don’t become symptomatic right away (if at all) and the classic “bulls eye rash” doesn’t appear? We’re probably safe, right? WRONG!

A 2015 field surveillance done by researchers from Maine Medical Research Institute, found that more than 50 percent of Maine’s tick population carried Lyme disease. In an August 2016 article in the Bangor Daily News titled "Maine Records Spike in Diseases carried by ticks, not just Lyme" referencing Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis (Lincoln County had the highest rate of incident of both in 2015). Both Anaplasmosis and Lyme are transmitted by the eight-legged deer tick, which also carries Babesiosis and Powassan virus. The Maine Centers for Disease Control was quoted in the Portland Press Herald on May 1, 2017, that tick-borne disease is on the rise in Maine and that the trend isn’t limited to Lyme disease. Anaplasmosis rose from 186 to 372 new cases, Babesiosis from 56 to 82 and Lyme disease reached an all-time high at 1,464 cases.

One tick, a single deer tick can harbor and transmit several of the infections at once. So, if I’m bitten, how do I know what I've been exposed to?

Tick testing

In recent years, it has become more and more common for ticks to be sent into laboratories to test what diseases the tick(s) could be carrying. Because ticks can carry many different disease and present with different symptoms, with the knowledge of what you’ve been exposed to, it reduces your chances of misdiagnosis and delayed proper treatment.

The University of Maine Co-Op Extension currently only identifies the species of the tick. With the addition of the new lab that is slated to open later this year, testing for what disease(s) the tick may be carrying will be possible.

Bay Area Lyme Foundation, thanks to a generous grant, has offered free tick testing with a turnaround time of 10-14 days.

TickReport, located in Amherst Mass., will test the tick for $50 and you get your results in approximately three days.

Knowledge is power

Knowing what you’ve been exposed to will greatly increase your chances for appropriate treatment in a timely manner. It will guide your doctor in the right direction if/when you become symptomatic. Tick-borne diseases present differently and because they present so differently, can be misleading to a provider. Treating an infection quickly also reduces chronic illness and debilitating symptoms from long-term exposure to lingering infection.

In October 2009, I was bitten by a tick and I contracted Lyme, Babesiosis, Bartonella, Erlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I was misdiagnosed and mistreated until April 2011. During that time, the infection spread throughout my body and did great damage. Now in remission, it is my mission to raise awareness so that others do not experience what I went through.

Prevention is key to staying tick-free, however, if you are exposed to a tick encounter, know what you’re dealing with. Get that tick tested!

Paula Jackson Jones is president of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education, a nonprofit 501c3 and Maine-partner of the National Lyme Disease Association and member of Maine CDC Vector-borne Workgroup. You can reach her at paula@mldse.org or visit their website at mldse.org.