MARQUETTE -While Marquette County isn't a hotbed for Lyme disease, summer is the time when new cases turn up in Michigan each year, and there are simple precautions to avoid it.
Lyme disease is one of a handful of disorders carried by ticks, which are active this time of year. It specifically is borne by the black-legged or deer tick, according to health officials.
Marquette County Health Department director Fred Benzie said in Michigan, the tick is populous in a few areas, not including the central Upper Peninsula. But travelers to Menominee County in the southern U.P., or to areas of southwest Michigan, should take more precautions.
Lyme disease is characterized by a red, circular rash at the tick bite site, often followed by flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches or fatigue, according to information from the Michigan Lyme Disease Association. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Lyme Disease Association)
Four wood ticks wait on a blade of grass along Kate’s Grade in northeastern Dickinson County recently. (Photo by Gary Zanetti)
"Lyme and the ticks that spread it are endemic in Menominee County," Benzie said. "For a long time, Menominee County was the only area in Michigan with the black-legged ticks and the spirochetes that spread the disease, because it had come up from Wisconsin."
He noted it is more prevalent in Wisconsin, particularly the western half of that state. It also has shown signs of emerging in Berrien, Van Buren and Allegan counties downstate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Michigan had just 51 cases of the disease in 2007, the latest reports available. In eastern states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, thousands of cases were reported.
The tick that carries Lyme is considerably smaller than the more common dog tick or wood tick that people find after walking in U.P. woods or fields, Benzie said.
"Its primary host is deer, and we are more of an accidental host," he said. Lyme disease is characterized by a red, circular rash at the tick site, often followed by flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches or fatigue, according to information from the Michigan Lyme Disease Association.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to serious heart, neurological and joint problems.
The MLDA cautions that the rash does not always appear, and symptoms can appear several days or even weeks after infection.
Benzie said the bacteria that cause Lyme disease take about 48 hours to effectively transfer from a tick to a person, and prevention is easy to accomplish by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the woods.
"One of the great precautionary measures is to get the tick off your body as quickly as possible," Benzie advised.
The disease is quickly treated when caught early, with courses of antibiotics. But many people do not recognize the infection right away, he said.
"In early stages, it is easily treated. The problem is most people wait too long," Benzie said.
Both the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Michigan Department of Agriculture will test live ticks for Lyme disease, with submission forms available online.