Humans aren't the only creatures affected by tick-borne diseases. House cats in Kansas and Douglas County are falling victim to a new illness.
Cytauxzoon felis, known as bobcat tick disease, first appeared in the United States in 1976 in Florida. Since then, it has been moving slowly north and west, arriving in Kansas about four years ago.
Marty Birrell, director of Prairie Park Nature Center, said the disease was highly fatal with a recovery rate of less than 1 percent.
"By the time the cat is infected, it's pretty much dead," she said.
Although there are no comprehensive figures, a survey of eight veterinary clinics across Douglas County revealed that all but one had seen at least one case in the past year. One clinic reported 10 cases.
The disease is caused by a protozoan commonly found in bobcats, which carry -- but aren't affected by -- the disease. Researchers suspect ticks spread the disease to house cats, who appear to be the only susceptible animals.
Birrell's cat was the second reported death from bobcat tick disease in Shawnee County. She said cats die within a few days of showing symptoms, which appear eight to 10 days after infection.
"The cat dies almost before you know it's sick," she said.
Symptoms of the disease include lethargy and fever.
Chad Johannes, assistant professor at Kansas State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said the disease caused anemia and loss of blood-clotting ability. Internal hemorrhaging is one of the fatal effects.
Johannes said he knew of five to eight cases in his hospital this year and had received calls of eight to 10 more.
Bobcat tick disease has no cure or vaccination. Dr. Ron Lee at Eudora Animal Hospital said the best way to avoid infection was to treat animals with tick and flea repellents. He said that products like Frontline worked well, and that he had never seen a cat treated with repellent contract the disease.
Birrell warned pet owners that insecticide would not be enough to protect animals because although such treatments will kill the tick, it may have the chance to spread the disease before it dies.