Washtenaw County, known for its vibrant communities and lush parks, is abuzz with a growing concern: Lyme disease. As the hum of summer sets in, it’s not just mosquitoes we need to watch out for. Let’s dive deep into what’s causing this uptick and how we can protect ourselves.
The pesky culprit
Lyme disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick. Susan Ringler Cerniglia, Communications & Community Health Promotion Administrator from the Washtenaw County Health Department, sheds light on the matter.
“We know that climate change is likely contributing to increased tick populations locally,” Cerniglia said.
A decade ago, Lyme transmission was a concern mostly on the state’s west side. However, by 2016, Lyme disease transmission was confirmed right here in Washtenaw County.
Fast forward to today…as of August 31 2023, there were 98 cases of Lyme disease in Washtenaw County residents who were likely exposed right here in Washtenaw County.
Deer in the headlights
While the county doesn’t directly address the rising deer population, a known primary host for these ticks, the city of Ann Arbor has taken measures in the past. However, the program isn’t currently in operation. So, while Bambi might look cute frolicking in your backyard, remember that where there are deer, ticks might not be far behind.
High-risk areas and transmission
“Most exposures to ticks occur in wooded or grassy areas,” Cerniglia said. “Ticks may be active any time the temps are above freezing.”
So, while mosquitoes might take a winter break, ticks don’t.
The Center for Disease Control highlights that ticks don’t have the ability to fly or leap. They position themselves on the ends of grass blades or shrubs in a stance referred to as “questing”. In this stance, ticks grip onto vegetation with their lower legs while extending their upper legs, ready to latch onto any passing host. If a potential host comes into contact with the tick’s location, the tick swiftly attaches to it and seeks an optimal spot to bite.
“The best prevention is to avoid or promptly remove ticks,” Cerniglia said. “Check for ticks after enjoying the outdoors. You can also wear repellent, cover legs/feet in wooded or grassy areas with clothing, and stay on trails if in wooded or grassy areas.”
Tick saliva has anesthetic properties which means you likely won’t even feel the tick attach itself. And they often seek a more sheltered spot so they can easily go unnoticed. Therefore, it’s important to do a thorough inspection of your (or your pet’s) entire body after hiking and other outdoor activities.
Did you know that ticks do not immediately transmit disease? You should be safe if you find one on you and remove it within 24 hours.
Got a Tick? Here’s the Trick!
The CDC provides these helpful tick removal tips:
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible using clean, fine-tipped tweezers.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands.
- To dispose of a tick, never crush it with your fingers. Instead put it in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag/container, wrap it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet.
The CDC further recommends seeing your doctor if you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick.
Cerniglia backs this up, “If someone suspects Lyme disease, they should seek medical treatment. Antibiotic treatment early in the illness is successful in treating most cases.”
Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime axetil.
Join the fight
Residents can play a part in monitoring the tick population.
Cerniglia shares, “There is an app called ‘The Tick App’ that allows individuals to send tick info to state researchers.”
The Health Department is keen on gathering data to share risk information.
Feedback and future plans
The Health Department values community feedback.
“We have received requests for more information about where in the county identified cases lived,” Cerniglia said.
With the rise in cases, they aim to provide this data soon.
As we bask in the beauty of Washtenaw County, let’s stay informed and take preventive measures. A little buzz of knowledge can go a long way in keeping us safe.
You can find more helpful information at the Washtenaw County Health Department website such as how to submit a tick photo for identification, updated data on the number of local cases, and the best repellents to use.