By Starrla Cray
WAVERLY, MN About five months ago, Waverly residents Jeremiah and Dorie Jessen noticed that their Boston Terrier, Bully, wasn’t acting like his normal, energetic self.
“All of a sudden, he started getting really sick,” Dorie said. After taking Bully to two veterinarians, the family was surprised to learn that their dog had Lyme disease.
Despite aggressive treatment with antibiotics, the Jessens weren’t able to save him.
They assumed that was the last they’d see of Lyme disease, but in June, 7-year-old Gavin began feeling lethargic.
“When I saw the bull’s eye on his back, I immediately brought him in,” Dorie said, referring to the telltale ring-shaped rash that occurs in the majority of Lyme disease sufferers.
Despite this sign, the doctor didn’t immediately suspect Lyme disease, and thought it might be mono or ringworm.
Unconvinced, Dorie pushed for a Lyme disease test, and Gavin’s results came back positive.
The entire family then decided to get checked, just to be safe. Dorie, Jeremiah, and their 3-year-old, Jaydn, were clear, but 13-year-old Faith received the same diagnosis as Gavin.
“She had no symptoms,” Dorie said, adding that awhile back, Faith had a small area of irritated skin on her arm, but the rash was not in the shape of a bull’s eye.
“That’s the only thing I can think of,” she said.
Catch it early
The Jessens hope the disease was caught early enough, and that Gavin and Faith will have no long-term effects after treatment with antibiotics.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), treatment is most effective in early stages. Although most people fully recover after two to four weeks on antibiotics, 10 to 20 percent of patients experience lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches.
Twenty-five Wright County residents were diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2013. Wright, Carver, McLeod, and Meeker counties are on the “edge of the risk area,” according to Dave Neitzel, an MDH epidemiologist who specializes in tick-borne diseases.
“The more forested part of the state is where we see the most activity,” Neitzel said.
A total of 1,431 Lyme disease cases were reported in Minnesota last year, most occurring in counties north of the Twin Cities, up through the Duluth area.
Lyme disease is transmitted through blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks), which live on the forest floor in a layer of rotting leaves and vegetation.
“They’re extremely susceptible to drying out,” Neitzel said, explaining that the ticks prefer warm, moist environments.
Most Lyme disease cases are spread mid-May through mid-July, when blacklegged ticks are young in the nymph stage. While adult ticks of this species are about 1/8 of an inch long, the nymphs are less than 1/16 of an inch.
“They’re easily missed,” said Catherine Main of Wright County Human Services, adding that the brownish-black tick might be mistaken for a mole.
Faith and Gavin don’t remember seeing a tick on themselves, but Neitzel said this is not uncommon.
“Quite often, people don’t remember being bitten,” he said, explaining that after three to five days, the tick will drop off.
Signs and symptoms
If a tick stays on a person one to two days, that is enough time for Lyme disease to be transmitted. (For the second-most common tick-borne illness in Minnesota, called human anaplasmosis, ticks only need to be attached for 12 to 24 hours.)
“With all these diseases, the quicker you can get a tick off yourself, the better,” Neitzel said.
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease (rash, fever, chills, headache, muscle/joint pain, fatigue) typically appear three to 30 days after a tick bite.
Weeds and trees
Dorie said she believes her children and the family dog were exposed to Lyme disease from ticks in long grass, brush, and thistles next to their home in the Carrigan Estates development.
At the July 8 Waverly City Council meeting, Dorie obtained permission from the city to hire a contractor to cut the weeds in that area.
The Jessens also vaccinated their other Boston terrier and new bulldog puppy to prevent them from contracting Lyme disease.
There is currently no Lyme disease vaccine available for humans, but several other preventative measures can be taken. Neitzel suggests using a DEET-based tick repellent (which also protects from mosquito bites and mosquito-transmitted diseases such as West Nile virus).
For people who spend a lot of time in tick habitat areas, products containing permethrin can be used on clothing. Permethrin products not only repel ticks, but also kill them on contact.
Lyme disease locally
In 2013, a total of 1,431 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Minnesota. Of those, 25 were residents of Wright County; 17 lived in Carver County, and three were from Meeker County. No cases were reported in McLeod County residents.
Citizens of Hennepin County accounted for 117 of the cases, but according to the Minnesota Department of Health, many of these people were probably exposed to the disease while visiting another county. The ticks that spread Lyme disease are found in wooded, brushy areas.
The trouble with ticks
The Minnesota Department of Health website offers detailed information about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Here are a few ways to prevent Lyme disease:
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
• Check for ticks and remove them promptly, searching the hairline, behind the ears, behind knees, in arm pits, etc.
• For people near a woods with blacklegged ticks, keep children’s play-sets in a sunny and dry area of the yard.
• Walk in the center of trails to avoid picking up ticks from grass and brush.
For more information about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses in Minnesota, go to www.health.state.mn.us/lyme.