A ticking danger to dogs
Lyme disease isn't just a risk for dogs. People can get it too.
Dr. Dan Hartsell, of Country Vet in Alexandria, told of a case he has seen where a person's dog tested positive for Lyme disease, and later, the dog's owner also was found positive. He has also seen it happen the other way around. "They're both in the same environment so they're both at the same risk," he said.
Since the 1990s, the number of positive Lyme disease cases has increased. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the fact that physicians are more aware of the disease, infection rates in ticks are increasing and ticks' distribution areas are expanding.
Last year saw a record number of Lyme disease cases in humans in Minnesota - 1,239. From 1986 to 2007, there have been 10,083 reported cases in the state.
Douglas County is not listed as a high-risk area for tick-borne diseases in Minnesota (they are more prevalent in east-central, north-central and southeastern Minnesota). Part of neighboring Todd County, however, is part of that "red zone."
Bonnie Freudenberg, the infection prevention/quality nurse manager at the Douglas County Hospital, said that they do see patients who test positive for Lyme disease. "The number of patients is increasing, so the risk to people is greater," she said.
Three to 30 days after a person is bitten by a tick and infected, there is sometimes a distinctive rash. Freudenberg described the rash as a bull's-eye shaped rash with a red ring that has a central clearing. If it is at least five centimeters, then it can be very significant. Although not all people develop this kind of rash, it is very specific to Lyme disease.
As she referenced the Minnesota Department of Health's Web site (www.health.state.mn.us), Freudenberg said that other symptoms that occur in these first three to 30 days include fever, chills, a headache, muscle and joint pain as well as fatigue.
Days to weeks after the onset there can be multiple rashes, facial paralysis, fever, stiff neck, weakness and pain or numbness in the limbs.
Weeks to months after the onset of Lyme disease, there can be arthritis type symptoms in joints - usually the knees - also problems with the nervous system can occur, as well as persistent weakness and fatigue.
"Because those symptoms can progress like that, it's important that you seek professional medical attention," Freudenberg said.
Just like with dogs, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, so it is treated with antibiotics. Freudenberg emphasized that treatment is most effective early in the course of the disease. "The antibiotics can be very effective in killing the bacteria," she said.
Once patients are on antibiotics, they usually start feeling better relatively quickly - in a few days' time.
Some good tips to try to prevent getting bitten by ticks are using a good tick repellent such as ones with deet. Another product called permethrin is used on clothing, not on skin, and helps keep ticks away. Freudenberg said, "It's important to cover your body. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. If you're in tick-infested areas, tuck pants in socks or boots." This makes it more unlikely for ticks to find skin to bite.
She also suggested wearing light colored clothing so that wandering ticks are easier to spot. Parents should also be sure to check their children for ticks if they have been in woody or grassy areas.
Freudenberg pointed out if you don't spend time in long grasses or wooded areas, your chances of picking up a Lyme infested tick is pretty slim.
If you find a tick attached to you or your dog, there are some things you must do. Remove the tick right away without crushing it, making sure to get the head out, and disinfect the bite site and the tweezers. It is also a good idea to save the tick in a sealed container in case symptoms develop.
Source: Minnesota Department of Health - www.health.state.mn.us