Q: My wife and I love being outside this time of year running along the river and at her family’s cabin, but do we need to be concerned about Lyme disease?
It’s a common question for Minnesotans to ask. After all, our state is one of 13 states where Lyme disease is present, mainly because deer ticks are abundant, living in wooded areas, tall grasses and dead leaves. There were nearly 900 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Minnesota last year, with an additional 520 probable cases. Those numbers have continued to increase over the last decade, not just in Minnesota, but nationwide.
If you’re in Minneapolis and staying away from brushy areas of the city, your risk for contracting Lyme disease is low. But we all know Minnesotans are bound to get out of the city at some point, so it’s important to practice Lyme disease prevention strategies and be aware of symptoms, especially April through November.
Before enjoying the great outdoors, you can apply insect repellent containing deet on skin. Some new products allow you to spray your clothes. Make sure you wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you’re in wooded areas. This will minimize the amount of skin that ticks can bite. Wearing light color clothes helps you spot ticks during and after outdoor activities.
Not everyone is going to be willing to bundle up on a hot day to protect against ticks. So, a simple “tick check” is a great precaution. A deer tick can only infect someone if it is attached for at least 24 hours. Look at the scalp, waist, armpits, groin, and backs of knees for the little creatures. Taking a shower or going for a swim will help wash off ticks that aren’t yet latched to the body.
Unlike the wood tick, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, deer ticks are very small, about the size of a poppy seed. These insects spread bacteria when they latch onto their victim, transferring the disease through the bite.
Remove the tick right way
If an embedded tick is found, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull it out slowly and gently. Being especially careful not to crush or squeeze the body, as this can release Lyme-causing bacteria into your body. Wash the area with soap and water. Never use a hot match, or petroleum jelly to remove a tick. If possible, save the tick in a zip lock bag and show your health care provider, or note the color, size, and if it was big, round, and full of blood.
Know the signs
Symptoms of Lyme disease can start days or weeks after a tick bite. Symptoms can vary and may include: a round red rash resembling a bull’s-eye, fever, feeling tired, body aches, slow heart rate, headache, and weakness or numbness. Not every new diagnosis includes the bull’s-eye rash. If untreated, more symptoms can occur — even years later — that include pain and joint swelling, confusion and memory loss.
Talk to your provider
If you think you have been bitten by a tick and could have Lyme disease, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider immediately. Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. We administer a quick blood test at our clinic to determine if Lyme Disease is present, and will prescribe antibiotics. Symptoms can improve quickly, or it can take weeks or months for symptoms to subside.
For city dwellers, the risk is minimal. Summer in Minnesota is short, so enjoy it. Don’t forgo an active, healthy outdoor weekend due to a fear of ticks. But, take precautions when you’re outside the city at the lake or at a state park. Take steps to minimize your risk, and always talk to your care provider if you have questions or concerns.
Michelle Napral is a nurse practitioner at the University of Minnesota Health Nurse Practitioners Clinic, 3rd Street & Chicago. Send questions to email@example.com.