From the editor: I found out about anaplasmosis the hard way.

My husband is a tough guy; he eschews visits to the doctor. Last fall, he was sick — fever, headache, aching muscles, and a bad cough. For the better part of a week, he shooed my concerns aside. I finally forced a thermometer into his mouth; it read 104 degrees.

I dragged him, still protesting, to our doctor’s office, telling him he’d soon be home with drugs to make him better. Once there, a capable physician’s assistant listened to his lungs and said we should go directly to the emergency room. She thought it was pneumonia.

We followed her instructions and found the waiting room was packed. It was Friday, the 13th of November. The televisions in the waiting room and later in the area with beds partitioned with sliding curtains were all tuned to news of the terrorists’ attacks in Paris.

At first we heard a few people were killed. As the night wore on, the body count mounted and so did the descriptions of horrific violence. Our own worry was amplified and so was my feeling of helplessness as the scenes of terror unfolded.

I couldn’t help the people in Paris although I could see them suffering and I couldn’t help my husband either. I was scared.

An X-ray had showed he didn’t have pneumonia but a blood count showed he was very ill. He was admitted to a room in the wee hours of Nov. 14. My brilliant husband was disoriented and confused so I spent that night and the four that followed sleeping on a reclining hospital chair, trying to piece together what the various doctors, nurses, and technicians had to say about his condition.

At one point, a spinal tap was recommended. The final diagnosis was something we had never heard of — anaplasmosis, a tick-borne disease. Once he was given an antibiotic intravenously, he began to improve but he returned home a tired shell of his former self.

Seven months later, I fell ill with a similarly high fever and went to our doctor. The physician’s assistant was smart to test me for tick-borne illnesses although, unlike my husband, I had no sign of having been bitten by a tick. My high fever and fatigue continued — I lost my appetite for food and for life — until a positive test result was returned. Once I started with oral doxycycline, I improved rapidly.

Meanwhile, in calling to confirm a letter to the editor from Edie Abrams of New Scotland, I discovered she, too had had anaplasmosis. Her story is on our front page.

We had all heard of Lyme disease but none of us had heard of anaplasmosis — a disease that can be fatal. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the highest proportion of fatal cases were reported in 2003 when more than 3 percent of those with anaplasmosis died. In other years, the fatality rate was around half a percent, that is, one person out of 200 with anaplasmosis died.

It turns out that New York is ground zero for this disease. According to the CDC, no cases were reported in the United States until 1994. From 2000 to 2010, the number of cases reported in our country has risen from 348 to 1,761, the CDC says.

The numbers in New York State and right here in Albany County show a similar exponential increase. According to figures from the state’s Department of Health, Albany County had 11 cases of anaplasmosis in 2012 and 68 in 2015, the most recent count available.

A state health-department expert in tick-borne illness, Bryon Backenson, told us “a few” people with anaplasmosis in New York State had died but that it would be difficult to come up with an exact number.

While there has been much media coverage of late on the Zika virus, there are only two areas in the United States — both in Dade County Florida — where it has been locally transmitted. Since the mosquito-born disease can cause serious birth defects, it is certainly wise to advise pregnant women not to travel to areas of the world where there have been Zika outbreaks — in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

This information on Zika is prominently displayed on the state’s Department of Health website with a link from the home-page picture of a giant mosquito. The site notes that for most people Zika is a mild infection and that the only cases in New York State are in people who traveled to Zika outbreak areas or through sexual transmission from someone who traveled to those areas.

We’d like to raise awareness — for residents as well as doctors —about the anaplasmosis in our midst. In our area, the tick-borne diseases of anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis should be getting at least as much notice as Zika; they are far more prevalent here.

“Physicians have the responsibility to keep up with scientific literature,” Backenson told us when we asked him how doctors were to know about it. He also conceded they are “busy folks” and noted there had been speakers at St. Peter’s and Albany Medical Center presenting cases of anaplasmosis to raise awareness.

The state’s health department and county health departments have also sent out mailers to physicians, he said, but he added, “You can’t guarantee it’s going to stick.”

It’s likely the incidence of anaplasmosis will continue to rise as more people take to the outdoors — just last week the governor announced close to $100 million in grants for biking and walking paths — and as we use fewer pesticides (both good things) and as the climate continues to warm.

We’ve highlighted both the symptoms and treatment for anaplasmosis in our front-page story, as well as preventative techniques, hoping it will serve as a guide to the uninformed. We know firsthand, from the horrible experience of being ill-informed, the suffering the disease can cause.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between life and death.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

More Editorials

  • While we wait for our government to help bridge the growing chasm between the rich and poor, we, as individuals, can make a difference. If you have enough food to eat, donate to your local food pantry. 

  • While we wait for our government to help bridge the growing chasm between the rich and poor, we, as individuals, can make a difference. If you have enough food to eat, donate to your local food pantry. 

  • For decades, at the start of a new year, we’ve always gotten a thrill covering what many may consider routine — the swearing in of new leaders for the towns we cover and the appointments that follow, an annual and reassuring ritual in a democracy.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.