In Michigan, the first official reported human case of Lyme disease was in 1985. Cases have now been reported in both the upper and lower peninsula and in most of Michigan's 83 counties. It is anticipated that the number of cases reported will continue to increase. Lyme disease is an illness caused by a spirochete bacterium. This disease is transmitted to people and animals primarily by the bite of the black-legged tick,
Lyme disease in humans is most often a mild illness mimicking a summer flu, but serious problems involving the heart, joints and nervous system may develop in some individuals.
Lyme disease in humans may progress through three stages, depending upon the individual. In stage 1, people may have any combination of the following signs and symptoms: headache, nausea, fever, spreading rash, aching joints and muscles and fatigue. These signs and symptoms may disappear altogether, or they may reoccur intermittently for several months. A characteristic red rash, called erythema migrans (EM) may appear within 3 to 32 days after a person is bitten by an infected tick. The rash is circular in shape and can attain a diameter of 2 to 20 inches. EM is not restricted to the bite site and more than one lesion may occur on the body. Up to 30% of the people who have Lyme disease do not develop EM lesions, making diagnosis more difficult.
In stage 2 (weeks to months after initial exposure to the bacterium or after the first symptoms appear), some people may develop complications involving the heart and/or nervous system. Specific disorders may include various degrees of heart block, nervous system abnormalities such as meningitis, encephalitis and facial paralysis (Bell's palsy), and other conditions involving peripheral nerves. Painful joints, tendons, or muscles may also be noted during this stage of the disease.
Arthritis is the most commonly recognized long-term sign of Lyme disease (stage 3). From one month to several years after their first symptoms appear, people may experience repeated attacks of arthritis.
Dogs, cats, cattle, horses and other domestic animals may also exhibit a variety of signs, including fever and lameness. Wild animals such as deer, raccoon and mice show no signs and apparently suffer no ill effects from the disease.
Diagnosis & Removal
Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove a tick. If you don't have tweezers, put on gloves or cover your hands with tissue paper, then use your fingers. Do not handle the tick with bare hands. Grab the tick as close to its mouth (the part that is stuck in your skin) as you can. The body of the tick will be above your skin.
- Do not grab the tick around its swollen belly. You could push infected fluid from the tick into your body if you squeeze it.
- Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist the tick. This may break off the tick's body and leave the head in your skin.
- Put the tick in a dry jar or ziplock bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if necessary.
If you find a tick embedded in your skin make sure you save it and take it with you to the doctor. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because the disease mimics many other diseases and there is no definitive test for it at this time. A diagnosis should be based on a history of tick bite, the presence of a circular rash, an examination by a physician for other symptoms, and laboratory tests. The most reliable indication of Lyme disease is a large circular rash (erythema migrans). If you develop any of the symptoms or recall being bitten by a tick, discuss your suspicions of Lyme disease with your physician.
Treatment and Prevention
Prompt diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics can cure the infection and prevent later complications in both humans and domestic animals. Treatment during later stages of the disease often requires more intensive antibiotic therapy.
While there is no sure way to completely eliminate the chance of contracting Lyme disease, there are several specific preventative measures one can take:
- Wear long pants tucked into boots or socks and wear long-sleeved shirts buttoned at the cuff.
- Use tick repellents containing 0.5% permethrin or mosquito repellents containing 30% DEET.
- Examine clothing, skin and pets for ticks and remove them promptly.