Update on ticks, diseases and vaccines

Lyme disease continues to be an increasing problem in Minnesota. There were 461 cases in 2001, and that number nearly doubled in 2002?867 cases. There are two other less common diseases that deer ticks can also transmit to humans: Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) --93 cases in 200l and 149 cases in 2002; and, Babesiosis--5 cases in 2001 and 7 cases in 2002. The signs and symptoms of all three diseases are very similar and include fever, chills, headache, and muscle and joint pain. See your doctor immediately if you suspect any of these problems associated with a tick bite. Babesiosis is most often seen in people who have had their immune systems weakened in other ways. Lyme disease and HGE are treated with antibiotics, while 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. Presently there is NO vaccine for Lyme disease.

The following maps show Lyme disease in Minnesota during 2001 and 2002 by county of exposure, and Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis by county of exposure for 2002. The Lyme disease map does not include 201 cases of unknown county of exposure and 140 cases of Minnesota residents exposed in Wisconsin and 3 cases of exposure in other states. The map for HGE does not include 7 cases of unknown county of exposure and 3 cases of exposure in Wisconsin.

If you spend time in an outdoor area where Lyme disease or HGE is indicated, you should check yourself for ticks each day, especially during 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 is entitled 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 pending 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.

For more information on these three diseases you can use the Minnesota Dept. of Health's website. Scroll down to Quick Links and click on Lyme disease.

2002 cases of Lyme disease by county

Map of 2002 cases of lyme disease by county.

2002 cases of HGE by county

Map of 2002 cases of HGE by county.