Health department warns of tick bites, Lyme disease

Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Department of Health is warning residents to take precautions against tick bites to prevent contracting the diseases they carry, in particular Lyme disease. 

Ticks live in and near wooded areas, tall grass and brush. Although the American dog tick and the Lone Star tick can spread disease, the black-legged or deer tick is the most common disease carrier in Illinois and surrounding states and is largely responsible for the spread of Lyme disease.

Thirty-nine cases of Lyme disease were reported in McHenry County in 2012, along with three cases of other tick-borne illnesses (ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever). In contrast, only 19 cases were reported in 2011.  

Lyme disease typically occurs three to 30 days after exposure to an infected tick.

Symptoms vary from person to person and may include fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and skin rash (often with a “bull’s-eye” appearance).

In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, so it’s important to check oneself after being outside.

Many cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Those who experience these symptoms, and have had possible exposure to ticks, should contact their physician for reporting to the health department. If physicians have questions regarding testing, they should call the health department’s Communicable Disease program. 

To protect against tick-borne illness:

• Become educated about tick identification, removal and symptom awareness.

• Walk in the center of trails. Avoid wooded, bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter including vacant lots in residential areas.

• Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to find. Tuck long pants into socks and boots.

• Apply insect repellent containing DEET (20 percent or more) to exposed skin. Follow label instructions.

• Conduct full-body tick checks on family members (including underarms, in/around ears, inside belly button, behind knees, between legs, around waists, and especially in the hair). Also check any gear taken on outings. 

Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect.  Keep pets out of tick habitats such as tall grass/brush. Always examine pets before bringing them inside. Ask a vet to recommend an over-the-counter tick killer/repellent. The CDC recommends bathing or showering as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks. 

For information on Lyme disease, call 815-334-4500, visit www.mcdh.info, Environmental Health (“quick tips”) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/. 

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