Pet’s death launches ‘Mission Kiana’ Beloved animal succumbs to tick-borne illness that also hits humans
Lynn DeVaux still has trouble speaking about the death of her dog Kiana without tears forming.
But DeVaux now is on what she calls “Mission Kiana” to educate Nevada County about erlichiosis, the tick-borne disease that caused her to put her beloved part-husky and wolf down in December.
“I just thought if there’s anything to come out of this, it would be to make it known that this a real threat,” said the San Juan Ridge resident. “She went downhill so fast I had to make the decision to let her go.
“She was with me all the time, she was my constant companion,” DeVaux said. “We had a real connection, more so than any other pet I ever had.”
Erlichiosis occurs in different strains, some strains attacking animals and others invading humans, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That may explain why scientists say animals don’t give it directly to humans and vice versa.
What is known is that humans and animals get erlichiosis directly from ticks, according to an article for the veterinary Web site PetEducation.com written by Midwestern veterinarian and disease transmission specialist Dr. Holly Nash.
At the University of California Davis, Associate Professor Janet Foley’s research suggests there is also a go-between host that ticks tap into to spread animal erlichiosis.
“We’re not quite sure which rodent is the reservoir,” the tick researcher said, but work in the field keeps pointing to one. “We know they’re in the foothills. (Erlichiosis) is reasonably common in horses and dogs in your area.”
The black-legged tick and the western black-legged tick spread the disease to animals, Foley said.
“They’re a bright red tick with black legs,” Foley said. “They look just like a deer tick.”
Tick control needed
Both Foley and the CDC say tick control products should be applied to pets regularly, particularly in rural areas with high infestations. Both humans and animals should also check themselves regularly for ticks and remove them slowly, but firmly with tweezers if they have burrowed into the skin.
DeVaux’s experience with Kiana’s erlichiosis suggests extreme scrutiny.
“I was diligent about her tick control, but she got a bite anyway,” DeVaux said.
Four weeks passed between the time Kiana showed symptoms of being sick and her death. DeVaux said she was lethargic, incontinent and prone to vomiting.
She was also staring into lights and licking her mouth compulsively, a sign that she may have been having seizures – a common symptom in the animal strain.
“By the time it was diagnosed, she could jump in the truck one day and the next, she couldn’t,” DeVaux said. “We took her in (to the veterinarian) and she had internal hemorrhaging.
“With this, you may no not know how severely ill your animal is until the final hour,” DeVaux said. “It was really fast.
“I’ve talked to different people who had dogs with seizures and it’s interesting how many had similar symptoms. I think it’s going undiagnosed a lot.”
DeVaux also knows of human ehrlichiosis victims.
“I actually met someone who had it back East and was in the hospital for two months,” DeVaux said.
According to the CDC, human ehrlichiosis is primarily found in the southern and southwestern portions of the United States, but it also occurs along the Pacific Coast and the central valleys of California, Oregon and Washington. The western black-legged tick and the lone star tick are the carriers of the human strain.
Many who are bit by a tick with the human strain never develop erlichiosis. Those who do may experience headaches, high fever and major muscle aches. In severe cases, white blood cell counts can drop, kidney failure can occur and death is possible.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
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