By Shereen Siewert
Tick season is officially here, and health officials say Lyme disease isn’t the only tick-borne illness that should be on your radar.
Health officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota say they are seeing an increase in Ehrlichiosis, which is as serious as Lyme but more difficult to detect. Erlichiosis is very different from Lyme disease, where your odds are very good if you are able to remove the tick within 48 hours. Erlichiosis bacteria infects humans as soon as they are bitten, infecting and killing white blood cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Unlike Lyme disease with its signature bulls eye rash, there’s nothing clinically obvious about Ehrlichiosis infections,” said Jennifer Miller, communication specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “The symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, confusion—which are symptoms of a number of other illnesses, too. Diagnosis of Ehrlichiosis infections can only be confirmed by laboratory testing.”
Discovered by Mayo Clinic researchers in 2009, Erlichiosis may cause severe symptoms, including respiratory and renal complications, in the elderly or immune-compromised people.
And unlike Lyme disease, there is no rash that occurs and the symptoms begin occurring almost immediately. The disease is spread through the deer tick, the same tick that carries Lyme.
Tips for reducing tick habitat around your home:
• Clear leaf litter under trees, and keep the ground clean under bird feeders.
• Keep grass near playground equipment short.
• Install a wood chip or gravel barrier between lawns and wooded and tall grass areas.
• Minimize wood piles, as these are attractive to small mammals such as mice, which can carry ticks.
Tips for reducing exposure to ticks:
• Avoid tick habitat by staying on trails when in forest preserves and parks.
• Wear light-colored, protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or sturdy shoes, and a head covering. Tuck trouser cuffs in socks and tuck in shirt tails.
• Apply insect repellent containing DEET primarily to clothes. Apply repellent sparingly to exposed skin. Do not apply directly to the face. Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors. Use repellents containing permethrin to treat clothes (especially pants, socks and shoes), but not skin. Always follow label directions and supervise children in the use of repellents.
• Walk in the center of trails so plants do not brush against you.
• Check yourself, your children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks.
• If your pets spend time outdoors, regularly check them for ticks, too.
• Promptly remove any ticks to help prevent infection.
To find and remove ticks:
• Check the skin and clothing of anyone that has been in grassy areas for an extended period.
• Pay extra attention to the neck, behind the ears and the groin.
• Use fine-tipped tweezers or shield your fingers with a tissue when removing a tick.
• Do not burn the tick with a match or cover it with petroleum jelly.
• Grasp the tick close to the skin surface and pull upward with slow, even pressure.
• Do not twist or pull the tick quickly; this causes the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
• Do not squeeze the tick’s body.
• Once the tick is removed, disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
Make a note of the date you removed the tick and save it for identification in case you become ill. Place the tick in a plastic bag and put it in your freezer.
If you experience any of the signs or symptoms seven days or more following a known tick bite, you should consult your physician.