Lyme Disease and Ticks in Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County is now confirmed as an area where Lyme disease can be transmitted. Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis). In 2016, a local resident was diagnosed with Lyme disease and had not traveled outside of the county. In addition, blacklegged ticks found in Washtenaw County tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi.
Cases of Lyme disease have occurred every year among Washtenaw residents since 2007. But, until last summer, local cases were likely related to travel to west Michigan or other states where infested tick populations are present. In the United States, an estimated 300,000 Lyme disease infections occur each year.
All residents and visitors are urged to "fight the bite" against ticks and tick-borne disease. Transmission season for Lyme disease in Michigan typically occurs from May through August, with a peak in June. Frequent tick checks are important during this time of year. Prompt removal of ticks can prevent Lyme disease infection.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.
Treatment and Prevention
Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime axetil.
Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides and reducing tick habitat. While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active.
Avoid Direct Contact with Ticks
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin
- Use repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available as well.
- Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may also be effective at preventing ticks. An insect repellent search tool can be found here: Find the Insect Repellent that is Right for You
Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
- To remove a tick, use tweezers and grip the body firmly and pull straight out of the skin. Do not twist the tick. After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands. If you choose to dispose of a live tick, submerse it in alcohol in a sealed bag or container, wrap tightly in tape or flush it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Tick identification and testing is available from the State of Michigan.
For More Information
- Washtenaw County Public Health Fact Sheet: Lyme Disease
- Washtenaw County Public Health Communicable Disease Data
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services www.michigan.gov/lymedisease
- Michigan Tick Identification and Testing Form
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov/lyme
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) search tool – Find the Insect Repellent that is Right for You