WEDNESDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- People who go outdoors in several regions of the United States may have something else to worry about. Scientists report that there's another troublesome germ hiding in the deer tick that already harbors the Lyme disease bacterium.
There are indications that the germ infects a few thousand Americans a year, potentially causing flu-like symptoms such as fever. In one newly reported case, a woman with existing medical problems appeared to have brain swelling and dementia caused by an infection.
It is not clear, however, how serious of a threat may be posed by the germ. For the moment, Lyme disease appears to be much more prevalent. And four other germs that affect humans lurk in deer ticks.
Still, scientists say the germ is cause for concern. "This would not be commonly picked up by any of the current tests for Lyme disease," said Victor Berardi, co-author of one of two reports about the germ in the Jan. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The bacterium in question is Borrelia miyamotoi and is found on deer ticks (also known as blacklegged ticks) in parts of the country where Lyme disease is prevalent. In 2011, Russian researchers reported that people there were infected by the bacterium, and the new reports have found that it has infected people in the United States as well.
"We've known about this bacterium for a long time -- at least 10 years," said Sam Telford III, a professor of infectious disease at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who co-authored the report with Berardi. "It's been under our nose all this time, and a lot of us just ignored it until there was this case report."
For the most part, Lyme disease infections occur in northeastern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and northern California. The germs are spread by ticks that bite the skin and remain there for a day or more.
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