Spring brings concern about tick-borne diseasesSandy Robinson of Duluth was participating in a highway clean-up near Esko in May 2010 when she knew she got bit by a tick.
Sandy Robinson of Duluth was participating in a highway clean-up near Esko in May 2010 when she knew she got bit by a tick.
Feeling no symptoms, Robinson didn’t bother seeing a doctor and went on a trip to visit family in New York. After returning home, two weeks after the bite, it hit her.
“I hurt all over and had no energy,” Robinson said. “I recall feeling like I had gotten run over by a truck.”
Robinson visited the doctor, where she said doctors told her it was either Lyme disease or anaplasmosis, two very similar tick-borne diseases.
“I remember thinking what a nightmare for people who had this years back before it was readily diagnosed and treated,” she said. “I noticed gradually feeling more tired and weak. Then I hurt all over and could barely move.”
Robinson’s story is not uncommon in northeastern Minnesota. May is typically one of the highest-risk months for tick-borne diseases, and hardwood areas such as southern St. Louis and Carlton counties have a high concentration of ticks, according to Amy Westbrook, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health in Duluth.
May is also recognized at Lyme Disease Awareness Month by the national
nonprofit Lyme Disease Association.
“Once the temperatures start to warm up a bit, the ticks start to come out,” Westbrook said. “This is a high risk time for tick-borne diseases, so people should be sure to watch for ticks and do tick checks after being outdoors.”
Cases of Lyme disease and similar tick-borne illnesses — such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis — are most common around Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the northeastern United States, according to the Center for Disease Control.
After being infected from a bite, most people don’t feel symptoms for about a week, although it can vary from about three to 21 days, Westbrook said. Lyme disease is frequently recognizable by a bull’s-eye-shaped rash around the bite.
The most common symptom of a tick-borne disease, Westbrook said, is a flu-like feeling during the late spring or early fall — two seasons when ticks are common, but influenza is not.
People often pick up ticks while working outdoors. Precautionary steps such as wearing long pants and using repellant most often prevent tick bites, but it’s still a good idea for people to check their bodies for ticks once indoors, Westbrook said.
“Ticks are difficult to see, so it’s always a good idea to do a check,” she said. “People should know that where they live and work and play, there’s a risk of tick-borne disease.”
Jason Maas of Duluth experienced Lyme disease a few years ago. Maas, 17 at the time, said he was sure he picked up the tick on a nature walk, but had no idea until the bull’s-eye rashes broke out all over his body.
“It was the worst time of my life, that week-or-two span,” he said. “I couldn’t eat. I didn’t want to do anything. I couldn’t sleep.”
Maas said he now takes extra precautions when he’s walking in the woods. He wears long jeans tucked into his socks and uses bug spray.
“I never want to deal with that again,” he said.
But it’s not just humans who have to worry about tick-borne diseases. Outdoor dogs also have a substantial risk of picking up ticks or carrying them indoors.
Dr. Steve Schuder, a veterinarian at the Duluth Veterinary Hospital, said this week that he’s seeing Lyme disease cases in dogs on a daily basis.
“Dogs go to bed normal one night, and get up next morning and can barely move,” he said. “They hurt in multiple legs and have no obvious trauma.”
The biggest thing dog owners can do, Schuder said, is to use Frontline or other flea and tick products.
Mark Fenlason, owner of Mosquito Squad of Northeast Minnesota, said his clients in the Duluth area, but away from Lake Superior, have more problems with ticks than in most of the area he covers. Fenlason said he can spray properties twice a year, when the ticks come in, but they will always return later.
“We’re fighting a losing battle,” he said. “You just have to do what you can do to protect yourself. Ticks might still be around, but there will be a lot less.
We can at least reduce the number.”
While his company primarily works to reduce mosquitoes, Fenlason said there is a good market for tick control — which is perhaps more urgent for homeowners.
“People think of mosquitoes as an annoyance,” he said. “Well, ticks are a disease. People who have them know and are concerned.”