Think that Lyme disease is not a problem in Michigan? Think again. According to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the United States, infecting more than 300,000 people a year. The disease is contracted through a bite from a black-legged tick that carries the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. When diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics. Patients who do not receive testing and proper treatment, however, can have infections that spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.
In 2017, ten confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported in Washtenaw County. The county health department has begun their seasonal “Fight the Bite” campaign to keep the public informed on Lyme symptoms and prevention. “In the case of Lyme disease, we now have evidence that transmission is occurring locally,” said Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, communications manager and spokesperson for the county health department.
Local epidemiologists monitor tick activity in local parks and have discovered black-legged ticks that tested positive for the Lyme pathogen in Pinckney State Park, Waterloo State Park and other recreation areas. “We worry now about local transmissions, and that’s new,” Cerniglia added.
What is the county doing to combat this new public health threat?
“As a health department, we monitor the number of cases. We follow up reported cases to make sure individuals have gotten appropriate treatment and to investigate routes of transmission,” Cerniglia said.
The county also provides tick testing and identification kits for individuals who may have been bitten by a tick and are worried about infection. These kits also provide officials with information on how widespread the risk is in various locations in the county.
Warm weather is tick weather
Unfortunately, the warm spring weather typically ushers in Lyme transmission season, which begins in early spring and runs through late summer, with a peak in June. Cerniglia urged caution when enjoying outdoor activities.
If a tick is found, quickly remove the tick using tweezers, gripping the body as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out. Wash the affected area thoroughly. Monitor closely for any symptoms of Lyme, such as fever, swollen glands and rash. If symptoms are present, see a healthcare provider immediately. Ticks can be disposed of or saved and sent to the State of Michigan for testing and identification.
If parents are worried about harmful chemicals found in most tick repellents, such as DEET, alternative products are available. “The EPA has a tool on their website to find the right deterrent for you. It can be really helpful for people who are nervous about the chemicals and exposure,” Cerniglia added.
For more information on Lyme disease, visit the Washtenaw County public health website: ewashtenaw.org
Lyme Disease Prevention
Here are some tips to avoid ticks this season:
• Avoid areas where ticks are found, such as wooded areas, bushes and grassy fields.
• Cover head with hats
• Wear long sleeves, long pants, high socks and shoes. Tuck in pants if possible.
• Apply tick repellent (visit epa.gov for a list of repellents).
• Conduct a full-body tick check once a day.
• Bathe or shower after spending time outdoors.
• Check family pets frequently for ticks.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
If any of these early or late stage symptoms appear, see your healthcare provider for testing and treatment.
Early symptoms appearing less than thirty days post-tick bite:
• Skin rash at the site of bite, often
appearing in the shape of a bull’s eye
(known as Erythema migrans)
• Fever or chills
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Achy muscles and joints
• Later stages (months post-tick bite):
• Recurring skin rashes
• Weakness of facial muscles, Bell’s Palsy
• Severe headaches or neck pain,
leading to meningitis
• Arthritis symptoms in joints
• Dizziness, shortness of breath,
• Brain fog