Tick bite likely caused man's health scare

An Ivy Lea man is no stranger to ticks, but a suspected bite from one sent him to hospital for a relatively unknown tick-borne disease.

Owning a larger property in the countryside close to Gananoque, Ivy Lea resident Douglas Mackintosh, 90, was used to dealing with ticks on a frequent basis, but hadn't dealt with something quite like this before.

Thinking he had contracted COVID-19, Mackintosh was later rushed to the hospital to discover his symptoms were eerily similar to the tick-borne disease called anaplasmosis, which is caused by a bite from deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks.

Mackintosh in mid-August decided to get a rapid test done in Brockville after having a fever but it had come back negative. After slumping to the floor in his living room and his sickness getting worse, he was rushed to Kingston General Hospital, where he had undergone many tests, from blood samples to multiple MRIs and CT scans to try to diagnose his condition.

He spent a week at the hospital waiting for an answer and getting treatment.

"We hadn't even known he had a tick bite," said Blu Mackintosh, Douglas's wife.

But they were told all the symptoms he was having had been caused by the smaller-than-a-grain-of-rice-sized tick.

"I wasn't making any sense and I fell down in our house and I couldn't get up. I had no strength left," explained Douglas.

He said despite being 90 years old, he's still quite strong, but the infection had caused him to lose all the strength he had.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a United States federal agency, symptoms typically appear one to two weeks after being bitten and are usually painless so many people don't remember being bitten.

"It was like falling down a deep hole, as black as anything. I knew there was something wrong in my mind but I had no idea what it was," said Mackintosh.

"I was very sick, I thought I was going to die but I didn't; I was lucky."

While doctors couldn't find a sign of the tick bite, he was prescribed the same oral antibiotic that helps treat the early stages of Lyme disease, Doxycycline, to treat his symptoms, and now is on the mend a month later.

Mackintosh said that once he got the medication he started to improve.

"I'm teaching my legs to walk."

He explained that from the illness he didn’t know how to walk and said that his mind was very confused. He even had to use a cane for some time.

He added that it's an illness that takes a long time to recover from.

Blu said that at the hospital they ruled out everything they thought it could have been until someone made the connection between Douglas living in the country and made the call that it was from a tick bite.

"It's still relatively unknown," she explained.

"It hits every part of your body, all your organs, skin, your balance and everything."

He added he did have pervious a medical background that may have contributed, so nobody really knows exactly, said Mackintosh.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada and the CDC, most people with anaplasmosis are asymptomatic, but most frequently have non-specific symptoms like a fever, muscle aches and headaches, but can lead to more severe symptoms like respiratory and organ failure.

Mackintosh isn't the only one in town who has been affected by the lesser-known tick-borne disease; he said he knows of three other people in the area who have been extremely sick, possibly with the same disease.

However, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit said it doesn't record infection from anaplasmosis.

There isn't much people can do to protect their properties from ticks, but Mackintosh said that by using a chemical commonly found in insect repellent, DEET, or by using a similar chemical, Icaridin, they can spray their shoes and pants to help deter the ticks.

People should also make sure that, when out in long grass, they have socks tucked into their pants, which makes it harder for ticks to bite.

"You should know about the danger and then take the precautions," explained Mackintosh.

While temperatures rise in Canada, the environment becomes more suitable for ticks, and the possibility of tick-borne disease, like anaplasmosis, is likely to become more common, stated the Public Health Agency of Canada overview report on increased rick of tick-borne disease with climate and environmental changes.

Story by Jessica Munro, Brockville Recorder and Times for the Local Journalism Initiative

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  • Dinah Jansen
    published this page in News 2021-10-02 10:37:11 -0400