Remain vigilant to ward off tick-borne illness
July 19, 2019
I would say my number is about 20 this year. That is the number of ticks which I have taken off my legs, socks and pants this year.
I love to be outside, either running or walking my dogs but there is a downside. The ticks are around and they are hungry. After every trip out into the woods or fields, it is time for a tick check.
Tickborne disease are mostly diagnosed in the summer months of June, July and August. There has been a rise in diseases, based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health over the years. MDH reported about 1,500 cases last year, with more cases not reported.
Ticks in and of themselves are not the issue, it is the diseases which they can carry. The small deer tick is the one that can carry the bacteria which can cause Lyme disease. We live in a part of the United States and Minnesota with a high incidence of Lyme disease. The deer tick can be small and the bite is not always noticed.
For a deer tick to transmit disease, it has to be attached for at least 36 hours so that the bacteria can get into the person or animal bit. The bacteria live in the tick’s stomach and the tick needs to feed on blood for the bacteria to leave the stomach and then go to the tick’s salivary glands and get introduced in the person it has bitten.
Most people who get bitten and get into transmission of the disease will get the typical expanding rash called erythema migrans. The rash can look like a big bullseye. The infection also can cause fever, headache, and fatigue. Treated early, Lyme disease responds nicely to antibiotics. Some people can present with late manifestations of Lyme disease. These patients may not have had the rash or did not come in to get it checked and this allows the bacteria to stay in the system for longer. These patients can show a swollen joint, a facial nerve palsy, or even a brain infection.
Lyme disease can be diagnosed by identifying the rash and then treatment can be started. If there is a question about the diagnosis, a lab test can be done to help determine if the symptoms are from Lyme disease. Very early on, a lab test can be normal before it turns positive — so we often need to wait to check blood work if confirmation of Lyme disease is needed.
Prevention is the best way to avoid Lyme disease. If you are in the outdoors, use tick repellents such as DEET, which can be applied to the skin or permethrin which can be applied to clothes. Do a tick check daily if you have been outside in the woods or high grass. If you find a tick, pull it off as soon as possible. Don’t forget to treat your pets to prevent them from getting a tick-borne disease and to prevent them from bring them into the house.
I will still be trying to get outside as much as I can this summer but will have to keep in mind tthe presence of ticks.
Dr. Ken Ripp is a family medicine physician at the Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.