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One Tick Bite Can Equal Two Infections

In New York state study, 1 in 10 of the bugs carried both Lyme disease and babesiosis

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Krause has spent his career studying babesiosis, but he wasn't involved in the current research.

It's not known exactly how often people get two infections from a single tick bite because doctors don't usually know to test for more than one problem. However, Krause conducted a study in 1996 in New England where he tested people with and without symptoms of tick-borne illness to try to capture the true rate of co-infection there.

"We found 240 had Lyme disease, [and] about 26 people had Lyme and babesiosis, so about 11 percent," he said. That's a rate that closely mirrors the rates of co-infection Keesing found in upstate N.Y. ticks.

Both Krause and Keesing say that doctors that practice in areas where tick-borne illnesses are common need to be more aware of the problem of co-infection -- especially if patients who come in with the symptoms of Lyme disease don't respond to treatment.

"If people aren't feeling better within a few days on antibiotics, then the doc has to think, 'OK, I'm giving the antibiotic that's probably getting rid of the Lyme disease, then there's probably something else going on here.' And there are five other agents that can be transmitted by this tick, besides Lyme disease," said Krause.

Common-sense measures can help prevent tick-borne infections in the first place.

Krause suggests avoiding places where the bugs like to live, such as wooded and grassy areas. He says avoidance is especially important for people who have weakened immune function.

"If you're in a wooded area, do tick checks. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, wear tick repellant," he said.

And lastly, if you do happen to spot a tick clinging to your skin, don't freak out.

"Most people who are bitten by ticks aren't going to develop Lyme disease or any of these other infections," he said. "We know that only about 3 percent of people bitten by deer ticks get Lyme disease."

Just be sure to carefully remove the tick as soon as you find it, to help minimize any risk of infection, Krause said.

"If the tick is pulled off before 36 hours of attachment, you're not going to get it," he said.

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