September 24, 2017

Ordinary Bugs Causing Extraordinary Disease!

Electron micrograph Tick Fleas and ticks are fairly common pests throughout North America, but did you know that they are responsible for some fairly uncommon diseases?  Beyond being a nuisance to our pets, these pesky parasites are capable of transmitting life-threatening illnesses like the bubonic plague, Lyme Disease and rabbit fever.   So, how can you protect your pets and your family?

It doesn’t matter if the bug has six legs or eight.  Pet owners despise both fleas and ticks and the annual nuisance they cause.  You aren’t aware of it, but relieving pets of these pesky parasites might also prevent some nasty diseases.

Does the mere sight of a tick make you queasy?   Do fleas on your pets cause an edgy, “itchy” feeling.  Fortunately, working with veterinarians, you can ease your pets’ discomfort and provide a sense of relief.  What’s even better?  Each dead flea or tick is one less potential vector for some pretty serious diseases.

Both fleas and ticks subsist by drinking the blood of other animals.  Thousands of flea species exist along with hundreds of ticks.  Whenever these parasites take a blood meal, they have the potential to carry blood borne diseases from one animal to another.

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 75% of all emerging diseases are zoonotic in nature, meaning that they are passed from animals to people.  Fleas and ticks are important vectors in this type of transmission.

Here are a few important diseases transmitted by fleas and ticks:

engorged female tickLyme Disease, a serious infection in people, is perhaps the best known of all diseases spread by ticks.  In 15 years, cases of Lyme have more than doubled in the United States with 93% of the cases occurring in just ten states.  Our dogs are also susceptible, often showing lameness, fever, and possibly even neurological signs.

Despite its name, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is common throughout North America.  This is another tick borne bacterial disease that can have serious consequences for people and pets.  About 1200 people contract RMSF annually especially in the western and southeastern states.  Dogs have served as sentinels for this disease, but symptoms are vague.  Without treatment, this disease is fatal in both dogs and humans.

Ehrlichia are types of bacteria that specialize in living inside our white blood cells.  Many military dogs returning from Viet Nam were diagnosed with this disease, although it is found naturally in the United States as well.  Humans, dogs and cats can all become infected through tick exposure.  Affected animals will have low blood cell counts, fevers and occasionally severe bleeding, kidney disease, and neurological disorders.

Tularemia is an extremely rare disease also known as “rabbit fever”.  Ticks can spread this disease to dogs and humans, but cats are most susceptible.  Many cats are infected from ingesting diseased rabbits.  Infected cats may show symptoms from mild anorexia to oral ulcers and severe dehydration.  The CDC even has concerns that tularemia could be used as a potent biological weapon.

Other tick-borne diseases include anaplasmosis, southern tick-associated rash illness, and tick-borne relapsing fevers.

Like ticks, fleas can carry various bacterial agents, including tularemia mentioned above.  However, it’s the “Black Death” or bubonic plague that has greater potential for destruction.  Fleas pick up the disease-causing bacteria from rodents and can then infect both cats and humans.  More than a dozen cases of bubonic plague are diagnosed in the US annually.

Murine Typhus is another bacterial disease caused by organisms similar to the bacteria that cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  Symptoms are comparable to measles and this disease is found in southern California and southern Texas.  Fleas carry the disease from opossums and cats to humans, although recent research has shown that ownership of cats does not significantly increase the risk for contracting this disease.

Fleas can also carry bacteria that cause Cat Scratch disease in humans and many different blood parasites that affect both dogs and cats.

felis-femaleDespite all of the doom and gloom, many of these diseases can be treated successfully if they are caught early.  In addition, working with your veterinarian to provide protection against these parasites can keep the whole family, two and four-legged, safe.

Compared to the cumbersome and toxic chemicals of the past, the products available today from your veterinarian are very effective and quite safe.  Using products like Frontline Plus or ProMeris, in conjunction with environmental treatments creates an integrated pest control plan that will help keep fleas and ticks out of your home and even your yard.  And experts agree that is the key in effective control of these bugs.

Many different flea products are available over the counter in retail stores, but these products lack efficacy and have been implicated in toxic overdoses of pets.  Play it safe…get the most modern and safest flea and tick control from your veterinarian, use it as directed and rest assured that you are providing the best protection for the whole family.  To learn more about the deadly diseases carried by fleas and ticks, visit www.MyVNN.com to see a video.

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