Posts Tagged ‘Lyme disease’

A Health Epidemic That’s Going Largely Unnoticed

We’re in the midst of a terrifying epidemic, although you wouldn’t know it to talk to most doctors and health specialists.

The disease is growing at a rate faster than AIDS. From 2006 to 2008 alone, the number of cases jumped a whopping 77 percent.  In 2008 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 28,921 “confirmed” and 6,277 “probable” cases of the disease, but there could be as many as 420,000 because of underreporting.

Prominent victims include Parker Posey, Richard Gere, President George W. Bush, Alice Walker and Christie Brinkley.

If any other disease had stricken so many people, the medical community would be scurrying for knowledge, scrambling for cures or rushing to warn patients (think swine flu).

But that’s not the case with Lyme disease — a disease carried by ticks.

Instead, ill-informed doctors are often flummoxed when patients complain of fatigue, headaches, fever or chills, muscle or joint pain, mental confusion, swollen lymph nodes and neurological symptoms.  It’s an appalling display of indifference.

As Lyme Disease Awareness Month comes to a close summer travelers flock to grassy, tick-infested holiday spots across America, vacationers and physicians alike need to be on the alert for freckle-sized menaces that are responsible for the fastest-growing, most misdiagnosed infectious disease in the country.  The CDC has a map that shows where the ticks are most prevalent.

Unfortunately, many victims of this poppy-seed-sized predator spend months or years without effective treatment, because perplexed doctors wrongly diagnose chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis or psychiatric disorders.

Nature lovers need to be vigilant whenever we bike or hike near fields, wooded areas or trails. (For instance, always wear white socks; don caps to cover my thick, curly hair; never sit on grass anymore; and wash my workout clothes after coming home.)

Each of us needs to inspect our bodies for tiny, black intruders and tweeze them out before they have time to infect us with any number of diseases.

To reduce the ick factor, we can give this health-wise precaution a romantic twist, as Brad Paisley humorously suggests in his song “Ticks”: “I’d like to walk you through a field of wildflowers, and I’d like to check you for ticks.”

But more important is the need for public health community to treat this disease like the epidemic it is, and start putting real resources into educating the public and the medical profession about how to identify it, treat it, and prevent it.

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Controlling Ticks In Minnesota

High risk areas for tick exposure in Minnesota include the north central, east-central and southeastern regions of the state, also extending into some northwestern counties.  Greatest risk is found within hardwood or mixed hardwood forests, which provide suitable habitat for blacklegged ticks.  Risk of bites from these ticks in Minnesota is highest during the spring, early summer, and fall months.

Lyme Disease Statistics In Minnesota

From 1986 to 2008, more than 11,000 cases of tick-borne diseases were reported in Minnesota, of which the majority (more than 9,700 cases) were Lyme disease.  One thousand fifty confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported in 2008. A record number of 1,239 confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported in 2007, and near-record numbers of Lyme disease cases were reported in 2004 (1,023 cases), 2005 (917 cases) and 2006 (913 cases).

The number of Lyme disease cases has been increasing dramatically since the 1990s. A variety of factors, including increasing physician awareness, increasing infection rates in ticks, and expanding tick distribution may have led to this trend.
The risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases in Minnesota is highest in the shaded areas

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High Risk Areas for Tick-borne Diseases in Minnesota (PDF: 43KB/1 page)

The Lyme disease cases in 2008 ranged in age from infants to 95 years; the median age was 40 years. Thirty-two percent of Lyme disease patients in 2008 were under 18 years of age. In 2008, 64% of Lyme disease cases were male.

Exposure to blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) and Lyme disease in Minnesota occurs primarily from May to July, and again in the autumn, when people are outdoors and ticks are actively feeding.

The majority of cases occur in June, July, and August, peaking just after the mid-May to mid-July period when the nymphal deer tick is feeding. This lag is due to the 3-30 day period between an infected tick bite and the start of signs and symptoms.

If you ever have any doubt as to which tick you have encountered, contact a pest control expert for identification.

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