Rare tick-borne disease hits New York area

A scary new strain of an illness similar to Lyme disease has made it to our area, but thankfully, the only child in New York ever reported to have this form of the illness has made a full recovery.

Water Mill resident Christine Brennan’s 13-year-old son, Liam, was recently treated for Borrelia miyamotoi.

“We are the first of something — not something you want to be the first of, I guess,” Brennan told The News.

Liam seen here with his father, Dr. John Brennan.

Liam was playing in a wooded area near his home in Water Mill over Memorial Day weekend when he noticed a tick on his rear end. He had had Lyme disease three times in the past and didn’t have the trademark bulls-eye rash that often accompanies the illness, so Christine didn’t worry at first.

But 10 days later, Liam came down with a 105-degree fever and an excruciating headache. He went to Riverhead Hospital and was ambulanced over to Stonybrook so a pediatric infectious disease expert could study him.

“They really didn’t know what it was (at first),” Brennan told The News. “Thank goodness we knew he had the tick on him 10 days earlier.”

Brennan’s physician at Hampton Pediatrics, Dr. Nadia Persheff, said that she and other doctors were able to make a diagnosis quickly because they tested for the miyamotoi strain right away. Standard tests for Lyme disease miss this strain, she said.

“I think it’s important to let people know there’s other strains (of tick-borne illnesses),” Persheff said. “If you don’t do the blood work immediately you can’t pick it up.”

Borrelia miyamotoi’s symptoms are different from those common to Lyme: Patients don’t get a bulls-eye rash or arthritis-like joint pains, and instead might have a severe headache, muscle aches and even anxiety.

Quick-thinking doctors put Liam on doxycycline and he made a full recovery in two weeks.

Liam’s case was the first reported of Borrelia miyamotoi in New York. Persheff said the illness has probably existed for years, but because the test to confirm it is new, Liam’s is the first reported case. The incident was so rare that the health department called the Brennans and wanted to know more about Liam’s symptoms.

Doctors advised Brennan to use bug spray on her kids — Liam and 10 year-old Aidan — and to do tick checks on them every 12 to 24 hours. Brennan urges other parents to perk up their ears if their children start to feel sick. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause neurological complications.

“If (they) get any flu-like symptoms you have to assume (it’s this) first because it has to be treated very quickly,” Brennan said.

“We don’t have the flu at this time of year,” Persheff added, “so if you get body aches, a headache and muscle aches, think that it could be this.”