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Rare (non-Lyme) infection caused by bacteria found in deer ticks

(CBS News) Lyme Disease, spread by deer ticks, is much more common than we thought. About 30,000 cases are reported each year, but on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control said the real number of cases is more like 300,000.

Harry Woske
Harry Woske
CBS News

In June 2011, 89-year-old Harry Woske got sick from what seemed to be a summertime flu. The avid gardener suspected Lyme disease when his symptoms persisted.

Woske says he felt "feverish and a little chilly, and achy, and weaker."

"I almost collapsed and was admitted to the hospital," he says.

Dr. Joseph Gugliotta of Hunterdon Medical Center diagnosed Woske -- not with Lyme, but with borrelia miyamotoi. The infection is so rare, his was just the second documented case in the United States. It is caused by a type of bacteria found in the deer tick, the same tick that transmits Lyme disease and several other illnesses.

Dr. Joseph Gugliotta
Dr. Joseph Gugliotta
CBS News

"There were patients, actually, that came up negative on all the testing, including Lyme disease," Gugliotta says. "And we were sure they had something, but we couldn't prove what they had."

The bacteria may have caused infection in recent years without being recognized. Researchers have found them in two percent of deer ticks. Lyme is present in 20 percent.

Watch: What you need to know about ticks, below.

Dr. Gary Wormser of New York Medical College was part of a team that found miyamotoi in 18 stored blood samples from patients with and without symptoms.

"What we still need to learn is how frequently is it a cause of human infection, what are the symptoms and signs," Wormser says.

Wormser says that when a patient comes in with a fever over the summer, a doctor should consider whether it could be a case of the new disease.

Dr. Gary Wormser
Dr. Gary Wormser
CBS News

"Summertime febrile illnesses, you should think about tick-borne diseases, if there is tick exposure," he says, adding a tick doesn't need to be visible.

"All we care about is tick exposure," he says. "In the majority of the time where you have tick-borne infection, you don't recall a tick bite."

Today's estimate is so much higher than previous official numbers because most cases go unreported. But the CDC said there has also been a real increase in Lyme cases, likely more than tripling over the past 20 years, as the ticks spread to new areas.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook