New Test Can Differentiate Between Tick-borne Illnesses

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Time is of the essence in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Fortunately, one new test may be able to help. A report on the test was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Ticks and the diseases they carry are on the rise. One 2016 study found deer ticks—the species that carries Lyme disease—in more than half of the counties in the United States.

The two most common tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. are Lyme disease and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Although their initial symptoms can be the same, they’re caused by different pathogens; Lyme disease comes from infection with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. We don’t know what causes STARI.

"It is extremely important to be able to tell a patient they have Lyme disease as early as possible so they can be treated as quickly as possible," microbiologist and first author Claudia Molins of the CDC said in a statement. "Most Lyme disease infections are successfully treated with a two- to three-week course of oral antibiotics." Infections that aren't treated can lead to fevers, facial paralysis, heart palpitations, nerve pain, arthritis, short-term memory loss, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

But to date, scientists have yet to create an accurate, consistent early test for Lyme disease, which means people must often wait until they’re very ill. And it’s hard to test for the STARI pathogen when we don’t know what it is.

One team of researchers led by experts at Colorado State University was determined to find a better way. They realized that, rather than looking for pathogens, they could look at the way a person’s body responded to the pathogens.

They analyzed blood samples from patients with both early-stage Lyme disease and STARI. Their results showed that while all patients’ immune systems had mounted a response, the nature of that response was different.

"We have found that all of these infections and diseases are associated with an inflammatory response, but the alteration of the immune response, and the metabolic profiles aren't all the same," senior author John Belisle of CSU said.

Two distinct profiles emerged. The team had found physical evidence, or biomarkers, for each illness: a way to tell one disease from another.

Belisle notes that there’s still plenty of work to do.

"The focus of our efforts is to develop a test that has a much greater sensitivity, and maintains that same level of specificity," Belisle said. "We don't want people to receive unnecessary treatment if they don't have Lyme disease, but we want to identify those who have the disease as quickly as possible."

Ground Beef Targeted by Massive Recall Might Still Be in Your Freezer

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More than 132,000 pounds of ground beef produced by Cargill Meat Solutions were recalled on September 19 due to a risk of E. coli O26, according to a news release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The affected beef was produced and packaged on June 21, so you may want to check your freezer for any burger patties or homemade bolognese sauce you stored away over the summer.

“FSIS is concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers,” the agency said in a statement. “Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.”

Cargill Meat Solutions is based in Colorado, but these products have been shipped across the country. One death and 17 illnesses have been linked to the outbreak so far, with the dates of illness ranging from July 5 to July 25. According to the FSIS, people usually become ill within three to four days of exposure to E. coli O26. Symptoms include diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.

The recalled products have the establishment number “EST. 86R” inside the USDA inspection mark on the package. To see the 12 varieties of ground beef that were affected, click the following link [PDF].

The 'Pet First Aid' App From the Red Cross Prepares Pet Parents for Almost Any Situation

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People who have owned a cat or dog for years know intimate facts about their pet's health—like how many pairs of shoes they can eat without getting sick, or how many hours a day they can sleep without warranting a trip to the vet. But pet parents just starting out are often left in the dark when it comes to decoding their fur baby's behaviors. The Red Cross aims to demystify the process of raising a pet with a new app called Pet First Aid.

As Life Hacker reports, the first aid app is designed to prepare pet parents for a range of situations regarding their pet's health. If your dog is panting particularly hard after a long walk, the app will tell you if their breathing rate is normal; if your cat looks dehydrated, it can show you how to test its capillary refill time.

The resource is best used as a study tool, so if a pet health emergency does occur, you'll be prepared for it. After reading up on guides detailing pet CPR and how to treat a pet that's bleeding, you can test your animal-care knowledge with built-in quizzes.

The Red Cross makes it clear that its app is no replacement for a licensed medical professional, and even gives you the option to upload your vet's phone number or search for nearby animal hospitals within the app. Hopefully, the app's features for non-emergency situations, like its pet-friendly hotel locator, will get the most use.

You can download Pet First Aid for free from the Google Play store.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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