Update on Ticks, Diseases and Vaccines

Lyme disease continues to be an increasing problem in Minnesota. There were a total number of 1328 reportable cases from 1993 through 1998 (approximately 221 per year). In 1999 there were 283 reportable cases, in 2000 the number jumped to 465, and in 2001 there were 461 cases. Yet this may be only the tip of the iceberg. The very strict definition of a "reportable" case means that the actual number of cases of Lyme disease could be many times the number of reported cases.

There are 2 other less common diseases that deer ticks can also transmit to humans--granulocytic ehrlichiosis--HGE (79 reported cases in 2000 and 93 in 200l), and babesiosis (2 reported cases in 2000 and 5 in 2001). The signs and symptoms of all 3 of these diseases are very similar and include fever, chills, headache, and muscle and joint pain. Babesiosis is most often seen in people who have had their spleen removed or have had their immune systems suppressed in some other way. Ehrlichiosis is treated with antibiotics, and babesiosis (a protozoan infection) is treated with antimicrobial drugs.

Until February 2002 a vaccine had been available from doctors for protection against Lyme disease, but due to unacceptable side effects the producing company withdrew it from the market, so presently there is NO vaccine for Lyme disease, and none will probably be available for several years.

Lyme Disease in Minnesota - map

The map shows Lyme disease in Minnesota during 2001 by county of exposure. If you spend time in an outdoor area where Lyme disease is indicated, you should check yourself for ticks each, day, especially during mid May to mid July when the tiny tick nymphs are prevalent. Since the nymphs are so tiny that they are often missed during body checks it is strongly advised that you shower and towel-down vigorously and then change into clean clothes. Studies have shown that most bites that result in contraction of Lyme disease are due to nymphs. Also remember that your pets can bring ticks to you that may transfer to your skin.

It is also important to follow certain precautions to reduce your chances of getting one or more of these tick-borne diseases, These precautions are described in an illustrated brochure that is free of charge and available from the Mn. Dept. of Health, telephone 612-676-5414, and from many DNR offices. The brochure if titled Lyme Disease-Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment, Other Tick-borne Diseases, the Deer Tick, Prevention, and Exposure. Prevention centers on wearing light-colored clothes so ticks are visible, using a tick repellent, promptly inspecting your body after spending time in the woods or grassy areas where ticks might be present, removing embedded ticks with tweezers by grasping ticks close to their mouths rather than squeezing their bodies, applying an antiseptic to the bites, and watching for signs and symptoms of the diseases. It is also recommended that the tick be preserved in alcohol and saved for identification during consultation with medical personnel.