Take time to check for ticksAs temperatures in the Northland warm up, ticks crawl out and get active. May through August is prime tick season, according to Brian Becker, an environmental health specialist with the Douglas County Health Department.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
As temperatures in the Northland warm up, ticks crawl out and get active. May through August is prime tick season, according to Brian Becker, an environmental health specialist with the Douglas County Health Department. And they’ve been leaving their mark; cases of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, also known as erlichia, are creeping higher.
“It’s been going up every year,” since 2003, Becker said. There were 2,587 cases of Lyme disease reported in Wisconsin in 2009; last year, cases totaled 3,495, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. That’s a 35 percent increase. In Douglas County, 55 cases of Lyme disease were reported in 2009.
There were fewer anaplasmosis cases – only about 298 statewide in 2007, according to Becker. But that number is inching up, too.
Why are cases on the rise? Becker said that a healthy deer herd usually leads to a healthy population of the “blacklegged” or “deer” ticks that carry Lyme disease. In addition, more people are choosing to live in rural areas where they come into contact with wildlife more often. And there is a higher awareness of the disease.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease may occur three days to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick.
They include a round “bull’s eye” rash, fever and chills, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. In some people the rash may not occur. The symptoms of anaplasmosis are similar, Becker said, except there is no rash.
Both diseases can be easily treated with antibiotics when detected early. However, if left untreated, Lyme disease can result in debilitating arthritis, and serious heart and nervous system complications. “If you’ve been out in the outdoors and you’re feeling a malaise or fever, you should get it checked out,” Becker said.
There are ways to minimize the risk of getting tick-borne diseases. When outdoors, avoid wooded, busy areas with tall grass or heavy leaf litter. Ticks like to lurk in those shady areas, Becker said. When walking or riding on a trail, he said, try to stay to the center.
Insect repellents can be effective against ticks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults use repellants with 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing to prevent tick bites. Repellants that contain permethrin can also be applied to clothing.
Long-sleeved shirts and long pants can shield people from ticks; light colored clothing makes the small insects easier to spot.
Topping Becker’s list of precautions are daily tick checks. The searches can catch ticks before they become embedded or, failing that, before they can make a person sick.
The blood-sucking creatures have to be attached for at least 24 hours to pass Lyme disease on, Becker said. Blacklegged ticks are small and may be difficult to find, so tick checks must be done on all parts of the body carefully and thoroughly.
The Department of Health Services encourages people to pay special attention to areas where ticks tend to hide, such as the head, scalp, and body folds (armpit, behind the knee, groin).
Remove attached ticks slowly and gently, using a pair of thin-bladed tweezers applied as close to the skin as possible. Folk remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, or burning matches are not safe or effective ways to remove ticks.
Ticks aren’t the only warm-weather critter that can make people sick. Mosquitoes are known to carry West Nile Virus. Compared to Lyme disease, however, West Nile is extremely rare. There were only three confirmed cases in Wisconsin in 2010. To avoid mosquito bites, Becker said, people should stay indoors when the insects are most active – at dusk and dawn. Insect repellent can keep mosquitoes away, and long-sleeved shirts and long pants can prevent bites.
To track possible West Nile incidents, the state has reactivated the dead bird reporting hotline. If anyone finds a freshly dead crow, raven or blue jay, they can contact the State Department of Health Services at 1-800-433-1610 to report it.
West Nile virus is spread to people by the bite of a mosquito infected with the virus. Mosquitoes get infected with the virus by feeding on infected birds and can then transmit the virus to other animals, birds, and humans.
Only one in five people infected with West Nile virus will have symptoms, including fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. In rare cases, West Nile virus can cause severe disease with additional symptoms including muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, coma, and potentially death. Transplant recipients and older people are at greater risk of developing severe illness.
Symptoms begin between 3 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and typically last a few days. People who become ill and think they have West Nile virus infection should contact their healthcare provider for treatment of symptoms.
For more information on tick-borne or mosquito-borne diseases, look them up online through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/.