Despite never finding a tick on her 12-year-old son, Stephanie Lastovich, a registered nurse, recognized the distinctive Lyme disease bull's-eye rash on her son's right side nearly two weeks ago.
Nathan Eanes also suffered severe headaches, fever, nausea and muscle spasms before he was treated with antibiotics for the disease.
Eanes is one of dozens of people who will be infected with Lyme disease this summer. During the summer, St. Joseph's Medical Center emergency room sees between five and 10 cases per week. Area clinics see 2 to 5 cases per week, said Joe Walz, St. Joseph's Medical Center Emergency Center Department director.
"Crow Wing County is one of the hot spots in the state and the nation," he said.
According to the DNR, Crow Wing County had 94 reported Lyme disease cases in 2001, the highest number in the state. To the north, Cass County has the second highest number of reported cases at 29.
Crow Wing County has a high number of Lyme disease cases because it has a large population and many more people who visit the area. Many participate in outdoor activities making them more susceptible to tick bites, said Dave Neitzel, epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health.
Lyme disease is spread through deer ticks from deer and mice to people. The highest infection rate is from mid-May to mid-July. The deer tick nymphs are most active during this time and are so small they are difficult to detect. Deer ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. They often look like freckles and are darker in color than other ticks. The back of a female deer tick is red.
Walz said about 3 percent of deer ticks are infected with Lyme disease in Crow Wing and Aitkin counties. An infected deer tick must be attached to the skin for 24 to 48 hours to transmit the disease.
Nathan Eanes' bull's-eye rash is the most common symptom of Lyme disease. (Dispatch Photos by Steve Kohls)
"Timely removal is key," Walz said. But he said if the tick's jaws remain in the skin it is not absolutely necessary to remove it. However if the area becomes infected, the person should see a physician, said Judy Rian, Crow Wing County senior public health nurse.
Rian said she tells patients to write on a calendar the day they pull off a tick and if they develop flu-like symptoms in the next few weeks to see a doctor.
The telltale symptom of Lyme disease is a bull's eye rash larger than a half dollar. Between 68 and 80 percent of Lyme disease patients have a rash. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache, achy joints and paralysis of the face.
The sooner Lyme disease is caught the more curable the symptoms. It is typically treated with antibiotics for three weeks.
Neitzel said Lyme disease is the most common bug-born disease. But there also are two other deer tick-born diseases often overlooked. Erlichiosis is an infectious disease. Its symptoms include fever, chills, headache and muscle ache. Symptoms typically appear a week after the tick bite. Walz said area physicians see as many Erlichiosis cases as Lyme disease and treat it with an antibiotic.
Babesiosis also is transmitted by the deer tick. It is a parasite that only affects people without a spleen or those who are chronically ill because their bodies can't kill the parasite. It is treated with an antibiotic.
When people find ticks on themselves, they should remove them immediately, wash the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic to kill bacteria.
Preventative measures include wearing light-colored clothing, wearing bug repellent, tucking pant legs into socks and checking the body thoroughly for ticks.
It's also important to keep grass mowed around the house and to not leave piles of brush or branches in the yard.
A vaccine that came out in 1998 to prevent Lyme disease was taken off the market in February because there wasn't enough interest.
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