Tick season is digging its tiny claws in! The little buggers are starting to make their way onto our legs, arms, heads, necks and even behind our ears! Sure, ticks are a nuisance. They’re also a health concern that’s getting worse.

Last year the Centers for Disease Control put out a new estimate that Lyme disease sickens 300,000 people every year!

Here in Minnesota, there are about 1,000-1,300 confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported each year. In 2012, 912 confirmed cases were reported.

The number of Lyme disease cases has been increasing dramatically since the 1990s. Awareness is one factor. Other factors include increased infection rates in ticks and expanding tick distribution.

The Lyme disease cases in 2012 ranged in age from 1 to 92 years; the median age was 39 years. In 2012, 63 percent of Lyme disease cases were male.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows the basics when it comes to detection and prevention of Lyme disease, which has been known to destroy a person’s quality of life because of crippling symptoms like chronic headaches, flu-like symptoms, joint pain and more.

Here are a few other important facts about Lyme disease in Minnesota:

• Risks are primarily from mid-May through mid-July when the smaller nymph stage of the deer tick is feeding. Risk is present, but lower, in early spring and again in the fall (late September-October) when the adult stage of the deer tick is active.

• Lyme disease is spread by blacklegged ticks, otherwise known as deer ticks or bear ticks that are infected with the Lyme disease bacteria.

• The infected tick must be attached for at least 24-48 hours to transmit the bacteria. The chances of getting Lyme disease increase the longer the tick is attached.

• Though a distinctive bull’s-eye rash is a common sign of Lyme disease, not everyone infected will develop this rash.

• The signs of Lyme disease are different for everyone, but the most common complaint is “flu-like” symptoms.

• Other common symptoms of Lyme disease are headache, fever, chills, muscle and joint pain and fatigue. Months after the onset of the illness, symptoms can become serious and include: multiple rashes, paralysis on one side of the face, heart palpitations, arthritis and severe fatigue.

• Early diagnosis of Lyme disease can make all the difference by reducing the severity of the disease.

• Lyme disease is diagnosed through a physical examination and blood test.

• Blood tests may be negative within the first 2-3 weeks of illness. A blood test is not required for diagnosis of early Lyme disease when the characteristic rash is present. The blood test is an important part of diagnosis for patients who have been ill for more than one month.

• Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are very effective in killing the bacteria. Treatment is most effective early in the course of Lyme disease. Lyme disease detected later is also treatable with antibiotics, but can cause symptoms that may take longer to go away, even after the antibiotics have killed the Lyme disease bacteria.

• Prevention of Lyme disease includes staying away from tick-infested areas such as long grasses, brush, stumps, fallen logs and the leaf litter under trees.

• Wear light colored clothing and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks.

• Use bug spray with DEET.

• Always do a thorough tick check after being outside. If you do find a tick on yourself, remove it promptly following these steps:

• If possible, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick by the head.

• Grasp the tick close to the skin

• Pull the tick outward slowly, gently, and steadily

• Do not squeeze the tick

• Use an antiseptic on the bite.

• Avoid folk remedies like Vaseline®, nail polish remover or burning matches — they are not a safe or effective way to remove ticks. Consult your doctor or head to the emergency room if you are having trouble removing the tick or if you are noticing any abnormal signs and symptoms after the bite.

Kurt Belk is ER physician and medical director of The Urgency Room in Vadnais Heights.

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